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Dublin for sale

Comedian and playwright Matthew Tallon told David Hennessy about DublinLand his show co- written with Cian Jordan that ponders themes such as the housing crisis, gentrification and Irish politicians prioritising the country’s international image and money over the welfare of its citizens.

Comedians Matthew Tallon and Cian Jordon will bring DublinLand, their satirical take on the state of Dublin, to The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith this weekend.

The play is set in a dystopian future where the Taoiseach has sold the city of Dublin to a billionaire for a quick buck and had it turned into a theme-park parody of itself.

Wouldn’t you rather take a rollercoaster to work instead of the Luas? Wouldn’t you like to be paid just to be Irish? Don’t you want to live your whole life as a Truman Show-esque performance for the benefit of leprechaun-hunting tourists? No? Well too late, because it’s happening anyway!

Following sold out runs at Dublin Fringe and Smock Alley, DublinLand has been described as a “daring, biting, and wonderfully bizarre” commentary on the state of Dublin city.

In it, Tallon and Jordan “seek to explore the uniquely modern sense of social alienation that comes when a city starts to feel like a performance of itself: When your own identity is for sale, and you can only barely afford it.

The creators only response to ridiculous times when people in Dublin are struggling to get by is an equally ridiculous show but while it may come off as parody or satire, it’s also very true to life.

We spoke to Matthew Tallon last week.

26-year-old Tallon has been nominated for Hot Press Comedian of the Year in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

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His surrealist sketch series “The Matthew Tallon Fetish Hour” went viral on TikTok leading to him being commissioned by the Dublin Fringe Festival to create “Fetish 101.

Matthew was also selected for the Screen Ireland Spotlight Scheme for emerging writing talent in 2022, co-writing the comedy-drama series “Scouting For Boys.”

Matthew’s writing partner Cian Jordan (31) has appeared at comedy and arts festivals around the world that include The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Dublin Fringe Festival & The Paddy Power Comedy Festival.

What gave you the idea for DublinLand? I wouldn’t be surprised at all if real life events or something you saw on the news inspired it..

“Absolutely. A big part of the show is getting across that we have this really silly out there premise but the more of the show that you watch the more you’re like, ‘Oh, this is actually the same thing that is happening in Dublin and loads of cities all over the world at the moment’.

“The idea actually came when we got out of Dublin.

“I was living in New York for a year and Cian came over to visit me. We sort of noticed when we were outside of Ireland that, subconsciously, we were bigging up our Irishness a little bit to get a response just because people love the Irish so much, but they love you to be a particular way: Kind of whimsical and charming.

“We’d been trying to think of a show to do together and it kind of occurred to us that the same thing we were doing when we are abroad, the city itself has kind of been doing for the past 20, 30 years: Ignoring local infrastructure and local services in favour of tourist traps and traditional Irish pubs that aren’t really traditional and are owned by multinational conglomerates.

“We thought it was interesting to write a show about how the city is kind of becoming a performance of Irishness at the expense of actual people who live here.

“We thought the perfect way to do that would be a show where the Taoiseach literally is turning the city into a theme park.

“That’s kind of what came to us.

“We’ve been living in Dublin for years grinding it out as rents get higher and it’s more difficult to live here.

“And there were loads of stories in the news that informed the idea, stuff like the whitewater rafting facility.”

In 2019 it was announced that Dublin would be getting a €22 million world class white water rafting facility. The controversial plans were eventually scrapped.

“And also, in our research we came across loads of stuff that even we thought were Irish traditions that actually were made for Americans.

“Cian was reading about how the Rose of Tralee actually started because the head of American Airlines told Sean Lemass that an ‘Ireland’s loveliest girls’ type competition would be a great way to get Americans to fly over to Ireland.

“That’s something that we think of as a tradition and even that is kind of invented for American consumption.

“I think the history of our country- Definitely in the last 30, 40 years- Is littered with stuff like that where we’re so obsessed with being liked on an international scale but that often that means our politicians kind of prioritise that over the wellbeing of their citizens.”

Matthew plays billionaire Zach while Cian plays the Taoiseach.

“It’s a two hander.

“It’s the press conference.

“Cian plays Simon Costello, the Taoiseach who we actually named before a guy named Simon became the Taoiseach.

“He is basically doing the press conference where he’s announcing the DublinLand project and he’s selling it as this big win for innovation and that we get to be the first city that does this thing and that it is going to be great for the economy.

“He has a bit of that old Celtic Tiger, Bertie Ahern style flair to him and he’s trying to sell this to the people as this great thing.

“Then my character, the billionaire who’s buying it, is brought out on stage, and because I’m an evil billionaire and I’m not a politician, I don’t need to sell this to people.

“I start to slowly reveal more of the dark realities of what the project will be so a lot of the play is Simon trying to get my character Zach off stage so that he can sell this to the people again.

“The whole thing kind of bubbles up into this pure chaos towards the end, but I won’t give away too much.

“I think we really get at something about the relationship between these politicians and the billionaires who kind of own them in a lot of cases.”

The image of Ireland for some is all leprechauns and people singing and dancing all the time…

“It isn’t really like that but it’s becoming more and more like the country looks like it’s like that.

“When people come over for Patrick’s Day the whole country is decked out to look like that because then tourists will spend more money.

“I think it’s interesting. Also, I’m very excited about bringing it to London because I think that the experience that I’m talking about is even more prevalent when you’re Irish and you move abroad and you’re a minority all of a sudden.

“English people do have this perception of Irish people with the leprechauns and drinking or stuff that is a bit of a caricature.

“I think there’ll be a good catharsis in Irish people living abroad coming to see this show that makes fun of a lot of that stuff from an Irish perspective.

“I’m really excited for London audiences to see it because I think a big portion of the audience are going to be Irish people living in England and I think that a lot of the reasons why those people left the country is because of the very stuff that we’re talking about in the show.

“So many of my friends have had to move to London, Berlin or somewhere else because they can’t afford to live in Dublin.

“London is really expensive as well but they’re kind of like, ‘If we’re going to be charged this level of rent, I might as well be living in a big city where there might be more work opportunities or artistic opportunities’.

“I know people who have found cheaper apartments in London than in Dublin.

“I really think that international audiences, especially the Irish diaspora, will relate to the show in a whole different way to audiences in Dublin.

“And I’m excited for some English people to see the show as well, because I feel like the marketing of the show is very Irish specific and we have some really Irish specific jokes in there but the core theme of the show, I think, is happening in almost every city around the world.

“A lot of the people who really loved the show when it was in the Dublin Fringe were tourists who were just visiting Ireland for the week who came to see the show and didn’t even understand some of the more Irish specific references, but just really related.

“People would come up to me afterwards and be like, ‘Oh my God, this is happening in New Orleans as well’.

“Or ‘London’, or ‘Berlin’.

“People were saying that they could really relate to the themes of the show even though they weren’t from Ireland.

“A lot of the show we’re making fun of the people who are responsible for things like the housing crisis and the cost of living crisis and all these things that just everyone in Ireland and around the world is sick of, so I think there’s real catharsis to having all those frustrations expressed on stage in a way that they’re able to laugh at because the show is funny.

“Above anything else, the show’s just trying to be funny but I think there is really just a release of laughing at something that’s been such a source of stress in your life as housing and how the government has been treating people for the last while.

“Also we have this tech billionaire character who is the one buying Dublin to turn it into the theme park.

“I play him and anyone who works in tech is kinda like, ‘This guy is not that far off…’

“We have this insane billionaire character but apparently he’s kind of just the same as their bosses.”

Doesn’t he also get likened to Elon Musk?

“I definitely see a bit of that in him and he’s definitely one of our touchstones.

“We kind of took a few billionaires and tried to mash them together into one.

“Elon Musk really wants to be like Nikola Tesla.

“Our billionaire is almost like Elon Musk if he really wanted to be Walt Disney.”

You would know all about the sky rocketing rents in Dublin. It begs the question how a country that prides itself on its artists such as musicians expect to get more Glen Hansards if they can’t live in the city..

“It’s a real struggle, and it’s something that we try to make fun of in the show but that we take very seriously as well in how we explore it.

“I really do think that with artists it just means that the only people who are going to be able to get a start are already independently rich, which means that all the next generation of big artists are just going to be people who have a lot of money from their parents.

“That’s not to say that those people aren’t talented as well, but you’re just cutting off such a vast proportion of the population from ever even having the possibility to express themselves through art and I think that’s sad.

“Even people working full-time jobs can barely make their rent here so there’s really no time to take a little bit of time off work to work on some other project or something that you’re passionate about.

“People just need to be working every single moment that they have to be able to survive here.

“Even if you’re not an artist, I just don’t think it is a fair way to live.

“I think people should have time for their hobbies and passions and friends but for artists It’s especially difficult because your art is kind of a full-time job as well.”

It’s like how many of the actors who make it come from a certain class which allows them to pursue something so uncertain..

“I think a lot of the themes in the show really boil down to class.

“Living conditions are getting worse and worse for anyone who isn’t rich.

“I think it’s having horrific effects on the working class. They’re just getting completely screwed over at every turn by the government but then even lower middle class families are getting hit by it the same.

“Really the only people benefiting from these policies are the uber, uber rich.”

Even some of those in employment have nowhere to live..

“It’s just a simple fact the minimum wage in the country isn’t the living wage.

“It isn’t enough to live off of so it’s perfectly possible that you can be working full-time and still not be able to afford a house and that means that if you don’t have your parents’ house to fall back on, then people can be fully employed and still homeless on the streets.

“It’s shameful that that’s being allowed to happen in Ireland and in England.

“The countries have the money to house everybody and they’re just choosing not to change the circumstances to allow people to live meaningful lives.

“It’s really sad.

“They’re very dark themes that we’re exploring in the show, but I think it has a really nice balance where there’s that really grim underbelly of the realities of the housing crisis and gentrification but then, we tackle it with this incredibly silly, almost like Simpsons or 30 Rock style, just absurd comedy.

“I think it’s nice for people to be able to laugh at these things for an hour because for the rest of their lives, they’re so stressed about them.”

The show says something about how money can talk. Remember when Ireland did not want tax off a big corporation who were making lots of cash?

“Yeah, that’s another news story that actually inspired the show.

“I don’t know if you remember when Ireland sued the EU to be able to reject Apple’s billions in tax that we were owed.

“The idea that we sued to be allowed not to accept something like €2 billion, that’s already so farcical.

“We’re writing a farce show and you can’t come up with something much sillier than that and that’s real.

“It’s crazy.

Of course if you played at Smock Alley, you were only minutes’ walk away from Temple Bar where so much of what we’re talking about can be seen in full colour..

“Yeah, it’s so funny. I’m actually in Temple Bar right now.

“To get here, I had to walk past the Temple Bar which is just always flooded with tourists taking pictures outside it.

“An Irish person would never step foot in there.

“A pint is probably €9 but that’s kind of the feeling that we’re trying to capture in the show: That feeling of walking through Temple Bar and seeing this version of your city that you can’t relate to at all being marketed as authentic Dublin to tourists.”

DublinLand is at the Irish Cultural Centre 28- 29 June.

For more information and tickets, click here.

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