“Alright Chief,” says Lewis Kenny, sat on the stairs of a packed-out Phibsboro local, pint in hand, watching Ireland against Georgia on a screen.
The 24-year-old spoken-word artist is wrecked, fresh out of work and still recovering from Electric Picnic, where he’s just staged his debut play ObSession. “It was the first time I ever put a narrative to the pieces I was doing,” he says.
Performance comes easy to Kenny who, for the past three years, has exhausted Dublin’s spoken-word circuit. But his turn to theatre crept up quickly, when he was asked in early August to perform at Stradbally. “I didn’t apply to do it or anything, I didn’t have anything prepared at all,” he says.
So he went and wrote and memorised ObSession, a 60-minute play he now plans to fine-tune for future performance. In a nutshell, says Kenny, it’s about “the six stages of a session head”.
When Kenny was 21, the drugs came hard and fast. Back then his poetry focused on benders, forays into MDMA, a time when he was swept up in the session culture. “It was all I could talk about. It was all I had to talk about, really,” he says.
ObSession draws on these earlier works, weaving a story that moves from the gaff to the nightclub and onwards. The first section, “The Streets”, covers how, when you’re a teenager, habits form from the influences around you.
“The Gaff” moves the play into the world of substances. Then it’s “The Nightclub”, “The Rave”, “The Festival”. “And then it’s the final comedown,” says Kenny.
Scene by scene – between dialogue, music, poetry and costume changes – ObSession ultimately questions the line between a harmless bender and addiction. For Kenny it was an exercise in realisation.
“I’m fed up with the glorification of drugs,” he says. “I stopped smoking weed about two years ago, I was totally fed up with it. MDMA? I was just getting sick of the skag.”
As a poet, Kenny moves through verse at breakneck speed, gesticulating as the tempo picks up. “I simply light another rollie ‘cause I take great solace from the promise of what me mates have just told me, that I’ll be comin’ up soon,” he wrote in “MDMazing”.
“And that the massive amounts of MD that be flowin’ through me and through my veins will fuel and sustain me, remove all pain as I gain eternal empathy for those around me.”
Since those days in mates’ gaffs, Kenny’s moved from session head to reading up on national and global drugs policy, involving himself with groups like the Ana Liffey Drug Project.
“I became more interested about drugs and how they affect society rather than just making it all about going out on a Saturday night and getting ratted,” he says. That transformation is the narrative arc of ObSession.
A Show Of Himself
Alone on stage, Kenny’s first performance of this 60-minute one-man show was nerve-racking. “But the reaction, I think, was very positive,” he says. “In the end it’s a kind of introspective look at how obsessions form and a look at session culture in Ireland.”
When you’re a poet, says Kenny, finishing off his pint, you’ve to keep your avenues open. “I just can’t do the same thing over and over again,” he says. “Spoken word has kind of hit its height in popularity.”
He plans now to fine-tune ObSession. As it stands, the narrative is too linear for his liking. The story needs fleshing out, he says. “Because I did only have a month to write it there wasn’t much editing time,” says Kenny.
Dublin-based rapper Mango plans to team up with Kenny to work on ObSession before he performs it again in the coming months. He’s already been booked to perform it at K-Fest 2018.
Taking influence from the show RIOT – where Panti Bliss breaks the fourth wall between performer and audience, who are encouraged to take to the bar – Kenny wants future performances of ObSession to be similarly interactive.
Security-obsessed Electric Picnic couldn’t stop him sneaking 24 cans of Perlenbacher into the main arena. All the cans were laid out in front of the stage, ready for the session. “I just started launching cans into the crowd,” says Kenny. “I wanted people to open all the cans at the same time, create a cacophony, an echo chamber of can opening.”
Some of the audience only stayed for two minutes and left the tent, can in hand. Kenny laughs. “I was hoping they’d feel obliged to stay if I gave them a can.”
This play about the highs and lows of drug culture, he says, is the first of many. For the time being, though, ObSession is just that. “I really want to make this play more of a show,” he says.