Originally written for The Public Reviews
“Maybe it’s just about talking-
Quietly- Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty’s powerful Abbey Theatre début wears its title ambiguously: A description perhaps of the silences that fall between men in the wake of sudden, torrential roaring; the kind that cannot be held back any longer. The kind that follow an uneasy and uncertain truce. Or maybe just an unattainable ideal: the hope of a life without the noisy chaos of sectarian violence.
Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) sits in his empty Belfast local (Alyson Cummins’ set a near-perfect recreation), trading easy jibes with the Polish barman, Robert (Robert Zawadzki), as they suffer through a less-than-beautiful World Cup 2010 qualifier game between their respective home nations. Robert texts his heartsick Polish girlfriend. He texts his Irish wife, at home with their new baby. Jimmy sits, and waits. He waits for Ian (Declan Conlon), a man who, as a sixteen year old, threw a makeshift bomb into this very same pub twenty five years previous, and tore Jimmy’s life apart. The encounter which follows is less about forgiveness and reconciliation than it is about unburdening. Each man has his own narrative of guilt, carried within him over a lifetime, told and retold in the echo chamber of his own head but never released, until now. Ian’s is the more obvious, the more brutal and incomprehensible to his adult self. Yet Jimmy, whose life has also been defined by this attack, an attack which blew his father to nothingness-stray limbs in sleeves and trouser legs-, has too been hunched by remorse. Quieter, sure, but no less eroding. What each of these men need now is the ear of the other. They need to explain the lives behind their too early typecasting as Villain and Victim, to prove that they exist outside of the Troubles, outside of the horrors that moulded them.
All three actors give excellent performances throughout- funny, sombre, and raw. O’Kane lanky frame becomes a scrunched ball of stubborn fury, bellowing hot tirades across the bar before eventually calming to a more reflective simmer. There’s warmth too, in his relationship with Robert- the steward of this site of fading sorrow. Conlon is reliable as ever in his role as a reformed UVF apprentice, desperate to tell a tale that doesn’t end in explosions and imprisonment. These men and their versions square off on the bar-room floor, the end of one haunting monologue prompting the beginning of the next. As their tales run on, we catch glimpses of the supporting players, the ones who stalked the background all those years ago, heavy with their own struggles and sorrows: the girl supplied to Ian as a “reward” for his nerve and loyalty; the cocky protestant boy whom Jimmy beat to a pulp; the working men who huddled round a television to watch the World Cup as their city devoured itself. Arguably the most beguiling performance however, comes from Zawadzki’s understated barman. His story- of trying to stay afloat in a city where an undercurrent of violent racism has begun to gain strength in the uneasy void left by the Peace Process- is a touching and ominous one, portrayed with humour and deftness by this Abbey newcomer.
Gripping and uncompromisingly executed, Quietly is a play about the catharsis of emotional excavation. But it is also a warning from history, one which Robert learns from his warring patrons, from the violent cries of football supports piercing the night air, from the rocks that crash against the pub windows: there can be no easy peace here.
Venue: The Abbey Theatre (Peacock Stage)
Dates: 14 Nov-15 Dec
Time: Mon-Sat 8PM/ Sat Matinee 2:30
Tickets: €18 – €25 (€13 – €25 Concession)
Booking Info: +353 (0)1 87 87 222 / www.abbeytheatre.ie
Patrick O’Kane is extraordinary: with the drawn features of an insomniac, he looks like a man whose past is burning from inside. ****
McCafferty has given life to some of the most resonant political and social questions of recent years. ****
Excellent performances…a spiritual lesson about time and healing.