Writer: Owen McCafferty
Director: Jimmy Fay
Reviewer: Monica Insinga
The internationally acclaimed Abbey Theatre production of Quietly by Owen McCafferty (Winner of the 2013 Writers’ Guild Award) comes back to Ireland for its first multinational tour. Premiered at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin in November 2012 and hailed as one of the best new plays of that year, it went on to the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it won a Scotsman Fringe First Award. Perfunctory and emotionally on point, this story quite successfully compels us to witness two versions of one truth involving two Belfast men, one Catholic and one Protestant (as it often is when stories of the Northern Irish Troubles are involved), sharing a tragic past that both divides them and joins them forever.
Last night the tour started at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght, Dublin, with a show that spellbound the audience to their seats, especially in the middle section of this one-act play, when the lack of background sound, as well as the long silences between the lines of Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) and Ian (Declan Conlon), acted as a catalyst for reflection. What McCafferty is asking here is for us not only to acknowledge the trauma that these men have lived for thirty-six years, since the 16-year-old Ian (then a member of the UVF, Ulster Volunteer Force), bombed the local pub and killed six men in the process, including Jimmy’s dad; as a master storyteller, McCafferty is asking that we share in their talking, listening and eventual understanding, the same he is asking of Robert (Robert Zawadzki), whose main purpose is to witness and to transform this meeting into a piece of public history, and not just a private encounter.
After all, what really joins the two men is this possibility for each one of them to tell their own version of the truth, since as Ian says, “there’s more to the truth than facts.” While there is little to no physical violence on stage, in little over an hour, Jimmy and Ian recount what happened that day, 3rd July 1974, down to the most gruesome details, revealing even their most painful and intimate feelings, leaving nothing unsaid. Even the setting—cleverly designed by Alyson Cummins—Jimmy’s local pub, the one that was built on the ruins of attack, represents another necessary block for the truth to come out fully; Jimmy, in the body of the superlative O’Kane, makes it clear from the start that this is his territory, it is definitely not Robert’s, and Ian can only share in it momentarily, when he is allowed by Jimmy.
Despite its compelling and soulful writing, there are under-developed sides to this play: with Robert we can infer that we have barely touched the surface, and the lack of the women mentioned in Jimmy’s and Ian’s life stories on stage may result in an isolationist and over-masculine point of view. And yet, what make this a production not to be missed are the first-rate performances of O’Kane (who thoroughly deserved his Best Actor award at The 2013 Stage Awards for Acting Excellence) and Conlon, who perfectly balance one another out, both masterful and hypnotic, painstakingly directed by the superior Jimmy Fay.
Photo courtesy of the Civic Theatre. Runs at the Civic Theatre until Thursday 13 March 2014. The tour continues until the 16th April, before coming back to the Peacock (from 22 April—3 May), and finally transferring to two venues in Germany and London.