Gutted: A Review

By Hazel Doolan

*Please be advised that this blog references some topics that readers may find triggering*

We were contacted recently by Steve Dixon, he was one of our poetry submissions for our fundraiser in aid of Samaritans. It was a delight to hear from him and to hear that he has another work to be published in his publishing company Pretty Pug Publishing, big congratulations Steve! We were absolutely thrilled and honoured to write a short review of the publication ‘Gutted’ by Sharon Byrne. 

‘Gutted’ is a dark comedy play set in 1980’s Dublin and follows the story of Deirdre, Delores and Breda. These young women in their late teens/early twenties work in a fish factory. They each narrate their own stories at different points while the actors depict different characters throughout. The play was first performed in 2017 and later featured in the Edinburgh Festival while having a range of different performances since it’s debut. 

While reading it, I was transported to an era simulating ‘The Snapper’ and ‘The Commitments.’ An era of recession, poverty and vast emigration which affected the three women in more ways than one. Not to give the plot away but credit is due to Byrne for exploring the following issues which still resonates with a modern Irish audience today:

Domestic Violence: The 1980’s was the beginning of the end of women being restricted if faced with an abusive partner. Yet thanks to social expectations and oppression from the Catholic Church, the stigma existed and little resources were given to victims of domestic violence. Especially if they were married. If a woman was a victim of abuse one of the first things they’d be asked would be ‘What did you do?’ placing blame on them. Luckily, the character in question took refuge in her mother’s house, though the threats were still present on nights out and the partner’s threats to break into the house. Byrne explored this with sympathy, sincerity and compassion through the character’s terrifying experiences, including an incident while on a date. 

Unplanned Pregnancy: Even today, this is a taboo subject in modern Ireland and it was not so different back then which makes it sadder. On more than one occasion it is mentioned how one of the characters heard of someone down her street getting pregnant and the verbal abuse she faced. Another reference was judgement from an older character ranting about how young mothers were getting ‘handouts’ and free housing. There was also the threat of being sent away to the laundries so to be a young expecting mother then was a tense and scary time. 

LGBTQ+: 1980’s Ireland was not as colourful and accepting as we see today (although a lot more work needs to be done in this area). To be a member of the LGBTQ+ community was actually criminalized in Ireland until the lifting of that in 1993. The playwright highlighted this and the fear of coming out with sincere sensitivity through one of the character’s journey coming to terms with their sexuality. 

Emigration: This is a common trait associated with all three women and the other characters in the play. The longing to emigrate in search of a better life whether that be in London or elsewhere. 1980’s Ireland saw a vast number of Irish people emigrating to the UK and US due to poverty and a severe recession. The women in the text did have jobs, however they longed for opportunities to rebuild their lives through more job opportunities and a better quality of life. 

At the start of the text, there was a glossary which consisted of Irish sayings that the non Irish/Dublin reader may not be familiar with. Though it was a bit cringey on my end, I thought it was a nice touch for anyone not Irish. Although set in the 1980’s, the issues in Gutted still hit home as we now possibly face another hard hitting recession and have had an increase in domestic violence cases nationally. Although we have since repealed the 8th amendment we still have much work to do when it comes to protecting young expectant mothers, and those affected by the mistakes made by the State in relation to the mother and baby ‘homes’. If anything, Gutted shows us the mistakes we made in the past, highlights what is still affecting us in the present in order to build a better future. 

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