Quietly at the Peacock Theatre
October 28, 2013
The corrosive power of hate is tempered by lives filled with regret in Owen McCafferty’s Quietly, a seemingly simple play marked by seething questions. Two men meet for the first time at a bar, a place that is poignant for both. Ten years after the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Irish capital is at uneasy peace with itself. But even as past disputes are put to unlikely rest, new resentments are raising their heads, with racial tensions filling the sectarian void. The mounting menace of the outside world rubs against the conflicted characters McCafferty places at and behind the bar. But, while there is no spark, no ignition in the conversation between the men, there’s a constant threat that it could kick off, reflecting the province, a powder keg of anger awaiting the right match to make it blow.
Both Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) and Ian (Declan Conlon) were 16 when a bomb tore a Catholic watering hole- and by proxy their lives, apart. Their response to this shaped and sullied not just their own lives, but also the lives of people with both steadfast and fleeting relations to them. It grows like a cancer within them. The Peace Process may have given them a road to recovery but they need to voice their experience to take those first steps. They are not statistics. They are people. McCafferty avoids hollow apology choosing acknowledgment of deeds done rather than trite shame. Both characters were victims of the time and there’s no taking back what was done to or by them.
The performances of the leads are pitch perfect. O’Kane, snarling but cautious to at least try and keep his bark before his bite, is phenomenal, bewildered yet brutally conscious of the hand life has dealt him. Conlon meanwhile is indomitable, refusing the chum aggressively tossed at him by O’Kane while also refusing to kowtow with cheap sentiment. Robert Zawadzki, as their witness and pint pourer (also called Robert), is equally enthralling, baring his own hard knocks with blunt resolve.
It’s not all roses. The projection of text messages from Robert’s wife and lover intrigue but are never fully resolved. They hint at what his life has been but leave us with too many questions. The one piece of onstage violence also seems exactly like what it is. Staged violence.
But it is an admirable overall attempt to examine the fault lines littered throughout Northern Ireland today. The ending felt a little too easily come by, with the message taking precedence over character. But its questions of identity and reconciliation and the corruption of youth for political means, made it an informative watch.