This debut play features two gay robbers and a hell of a lot of cocaine
Playwright John O’Donovan’s first full-length play is set in the small Irish town of Ennis (where he grew up) in the wake of the 2015 constitutional referendum that validated same-sex marriage. It follows two young gay men in love, and the prospect of a marriage between two men hangs over much of the action.
But this isn’t a play about marriage equality. Instead, it’s about the knottier stuff of gay lives in certain corners of the world, and the kind of people who’ll never be the poster boys for the progressive cause.
Mikey (Eddie Orton) and Casey (Elijah Williams) are stuck on the rooftop of a house. They’ve just robbed a petrol station and found a significant stash of cocaine that’ll power much of their conversation for the next 90 minutes. The police aren’t far off, and while Mikey and Casey could wait them out and come down the next morning, it’s getting cold on that roof and they’re meant to be attending a party together.
So they’re stuck, and we’re stuck with them. At least they’ve got each other – and their cocaine – to keep them warm.
There’s no violence on stage, but there’s plenty of it described in O’Donovan’s full-throttle, finely observed script.
Orton’s Mikey moves like an animal who’s been backed into a corner and has just one instinct – to explode, fight back and cause maximum damage – and the only real question is exactly when he’ll be tipped over the edge. He’s not totally comfortable around the hyper-masculine and quietly homophobic people he grew up with, and he’s not totally comfortable around other gay men his age, given that he doesn’t fit the stereotype.
Williams makes the younger, closeted Casey a far gentler and kinder character than Mikey, despite his similar social background. Perhaps he’s gentler because he hasn’t yet had to stake his claim to life in the same ways as Mikey. Or perhaps because the secret he’s keeping from Mikey is weighing heavily.
They make a compelling duo in what is a very fine production directed with plenty of care and a dynamic pace by Warwick Doddrell. It’s balls-to-the-wall theatre, but delivered with restraint; Jeremy Allen’s realistic, slanted rooftop set is the perfect playing space, while Kelsey Lee’s lighting conjures up the exact feeling of staring up at black skies dotted with flickering stars. Melanie Herbert’s sound design mostly exists to ramp up tension in key moments and never draws attention to itself, while Stephanie Howe’s tracksuit costumes feel totally authentic.
Despite its value as a piece of entertainment, the play is also a reminder that it’s not quite enough to shift our laws to allow LGBTQIA people to live their lives with full equality. That’s still a struggle, but in a way, it’s the easy work. To create societies where there’s never a question of the validity LGBTQIA lives – where all families, friends and communities are accepting – is a far longer battle.