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It was just another night on the town for those attending the Stardust nightclub in Artane on February 13th, 1981.

It was a Friday, and with Valentine’s Day arriving at midnight, among the 420 there, the lovebirds and lovelorn took up the majority.

One such lovestruck couple was Gemma Kane’s parents, with a proposal planned for the midnight hour.

When the fire finished raging through the Artane nightclub, 48 people had died and 214 were injured.

Luckily for Gemma Kane’s parents, though separated in the smoke and the panic, they survived, finding each other later in the night.

It’s a night that still lingers, especially for those like Gemma and her parents who have grown up in Artane. And it’s hardly surprising then that the young playwright has tackled this heartbreaking blot on the local landscape, 48 following four friends as they joyfully, playfully head out on the town. On Friday the 13th, 1981.

With 48 coming to The Whale on January 23rd and 24th, we caught up its writer and star to find out more about this lionhearted and savagely funny play…

This is actually my first play, my own parents escape from the Stardust fire having long played on my mind. Growing up in Artane meant that I was always aware of the tragedy and the lasting and damaging affect it has had on my community – but, having my mam and dad’s first-hand experience of this disaster had major impact on me from a young age.

My Dad was due to propose to my Mam inside the nightclub, moments before the fire broke out in the early hours, but they were separated in the scramble to evacuate. My parents were lucky enough to find each other and survive the fire – the rest is history…

Though the subject matter is, of course, harrowing, I chose to write the play from a place of love rather than a place of terror or loss. I wanted to embrace the romance of young people in 1980s Dublin – to focus in on the everyday conversations between teenage friends, young lovers, parents and their kids. When I decided to encapsulate that, the comedy flowed quite easily. I enjoy writing sharp, quick-witted dialogue anyway, and being from a working class background myself, I can tune easily into writing typical Dublin humour.

When people think of Stardust, they automatically think of the horror associated with it, which is justified, but with 48 I want to honour and celebrate the good that came from the place. The young people that attended the Stardust were done up to the nines, full of life and laughter, and mad about music and dancing.

They were ordinary kids full of ambition. This play is for them.

You can catch Gemma Kane’s 48 at The Whale in January, on Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th. More info here. Stardust photos courtesy of Irish Film & Television Services.

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