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Quietly at the Peacock Theatre (Review)

So, a Catholic and a Protestant walk into a bar. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Quietly is a fascinating exploration of the Troubles from writer Owen McCafferty and director Jimmy Fay. While it’s often very difficult to translate the real life conflict into art – in many respects, it’s too real and too recent and too raw for us to process fully at this point – Quietly does an excellent job capturing the necessary steps forward for those affected by (and involved in) violence in the North. The result is a truly fascinating piece of theatre, and something well worth seeing during it’s run at the Peacock stage.

Picture by Anthony Woods…

I like the Peacock. It’s a small and relatively intimate venue. It’s much smaller than the larger Abbey stage, even when the space is fully utilised. The result is that it feels just a little bit tighter, a lit bit closer, a little bit more personal. As a result, Quietly plays very well. It’s a three-person play in a single act, and it puts two of its central characters (and, to a lesser extent, the third) through a confessional. The smaller venue emphasises the deeply personal nature of Quietly, and it feels perfectly suited to the Peacock stage.

It’s tempting to go quite large with the Troubles in Northern Ireland. After all, although they flared up during the sixties, the conflict can trace its roots and origins down to the Ulster Plantation centuries ago. There’s a rich and vast cultural history to draw from, and many works covering the conflict feel the urge to try to draw back and to offer a panoramic view of the society that existed at the time, with the complex societal and political entanglement. Quietlywisely opts for something a bit different, and something decidedly more personal.

Picture by Anthony Woods…

It’s two people’s accounts of the Troubles, seen from two very different angles. They overlap at a point, but they don’t map perfectly from one to another. The play doesn’t suggest a literal parity between the two characters, as that would over-simplify matters – make it too convenient and too easy. When one character offers half-hearted and uncertain justifications for his actions, repeatedly returning to his age and lack of experience, the other quite rightly calls him out for trying to justify a horrendous crime that had dire consequences.

Quietlyisn’t necessarily about reconciliation or forgiveness, although those are lofty goals. Instead, it’s about some measure of understanding, no matter how small – about how ripples of past events create a tapestry of suffering. Pain only leads to more pain – not on a one-for-one like-for-like basis, but in a more subtle and subversive fashion. Are the racist soccer hooligans we’re warned about repeatedly merely one expression of this cycle of violence? Jimmy suggests that his violent response to his tragedy expressed itself apolitically and more personally. It’s thoughtful, clever and well-written.

Picture by Anthony Woods…

It’s also superbly put together. Alyson Cummins’ set design for Quietly is a work of art. It’s very tough to make a social venue like a pub seem “real” on stage because it has to have that organic “lived in” while still being a perfectly managed and regulated. It’s a tough task, and the pub set for Quietly looks superb, complete with lots of little touches (a working gaming machine, advertisements) that add an air of authenticity.

The cast do a wonderful job with meaty roles. Declan Conlon is, as usual, reliable when given dramatic weight to carry. He hasn’t always been served by the best scripts, but Quietly gives him something to sink his teeth into and he does a great job. Robert Zawadzki does a great job as Robert, the Polich barman – and Jimmy Fay finds an ingenious way to bring his text messages to life. However, it’s Patrick O’Kane who steals the show as Jimmy, the barfly with his own troubled past to come to terms with. O’Kane seethes with a righteous fury that seems organic, carefully balancing inner resentment with outward bitterness – all while keeping Jimmy absolutely fascinating.

Quietly is well worth seeing, if you get a chance. It comes very highly recommended.

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