“There’s passion and eloquence in Naomi Elster’s play…the acting is uniformly good.” Emer O’Kelly, Sunday Independent
“Elster’s first play crackles with fiercely held moral and political arguments…[she] articulates the conflict between ideals and familial duty powerfully, along with the differing perspectives of the characters.” John Mckeown, Irish Independent
“What we have here is a microcosmic exploration of morality, of means-to-an-end survival and of gender politics.” Aisling Smith, LeCool Dublin
It is the autumn of 1913, and Dublin is caught up in a full blown class war. A war that Audeon Kelly thought he would fight to the bitter end. But his young daughter sickens and starves. Tensions creep into his marriage. Violence breaks out on the streets. Difficult decisions have to be made. What will the consequences be – for Audeon, his marriage, his daughter’s life, for Ireland?
I wrote Scabs for the centenary of the 1913 strike and lock-out, something which is quite personal to me as I come from a background where trade unions and class loyalty are very important. My grandfather still tells me that “the union is all the working man has,” a line I gave to the hero of my play, Audeon Kelly, in tribute to him. The centenary of the lockout provoked questions for me. For a start, what were Dublin’s working women doing during the strike and lockout? Why are they so little remembered? I found out about the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU) and was determined to write a heroine to honour their memory. Nora Casey, who was played spectacularly by Áine de Siún, is my tribute to all the strong, brave women whose names and faces we have forgotten but whom were so instrumental in both starting the 1913 strike and keeping it going for so long.
A much more personal question was, what would I do if I were a striking worker, but I was offered the chance to return to work? I know that I would stand by my principles even it caused me to suffer personally – if the decision would only have consequences for me. When you come from a background where trade unions are treated above all as a representation of your loyalty to your fellow workers, you have no respect for “scabs,” or people who return to work during a strike. But when you become responsible for another person, things aren’t quite so simple. The heart of this play isn’t political, but a deeply personal story about how a family comes to realise that their politics are threatening their young daughter’s welfare, perhaps even her survival. She is the reason they want to change the world but the harder they fight to change the world, the more they realise that the only way to ensure her survival may be to give in.
A statue of James Larkin stands tall and proud on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. We remember him as the workers’ hero. I wanted us to remember that the workers themselves were the real heroes.
Scabs premiered in The Pearse Centre on 4 July 2013 under my direction as part of the 10 Days in Dublin Festival. Following a sold-out festival run, Liam Halligan took over the direction and the show transferred to Theatre Upstairs for a very successful two-week run. Both shows were produced by Deirdre Jones and designed by Liane McCarthy.