GUEST REVIEWER BEN DOWELL SEES A GOOD SUBJECT NOT QUITE GETTING THERE…
The trafficking of human beings – 7,000 identified in the UK in 2018 – is a disgusting blight on our country. The fledgling playwright Eugene O’Hare is among many earnest contemporary writers (working in theatre, film and stage) seeking to shine a light on the problem.
Two drifters, Beezer (Mark Hadfield) and O’Rourke (Alec Newman), are heavy drinkers who have been lured by the brutal Cypriot gangster Dollar (David Schaal) into his grotty north London digs to hold the fort and do his bidding. Only by the time the action starts, Dollar’s bidding includes looking after a 12-year-old Roma girl who has been smuggled into England.
Beezer and O’Rourke are a vulnerable pair but not without a conscience; they will themselves into accepting assurances that Mara has been recruited to do photography work. Nothing “core” they are told, just a few saucy snaps. She’s nearly 13, they muse. And what’s worse? A life on the streets in Romania or a slightly better existence in the UK? After all, they have a bad life too.
This kind of moral reflecting – and constantly seeking of justification – is a strong and not always welcome feature of this drama, where the characters spend a lot of time earnestly explaining themselves away while poor Mara (Niamh James) sits in the corner, hunched, often scratching at her crotch.
It’s hard not to feel that she is merely a cipher to enable these men to wang on in a vaguely Pinteresque way, and when they do it doesn’t always ring true. The real world of people trafficking, I would suggest, involves sharp business transactions and not much self-reflection. And it is probably not run these days by a figure like Dollar, an East End gangster of yore complete with a suit, camel overcoat and threatening manner that sometimes feel straight out of a 1960s caper, or (worse) EastEnders.
There’s no doubting that this is a play which comes from a good and worthy place and O’Hare’s well-constructed text is very good at evoking the sheer awfulness of the world it embraces. James Perkins’ set also evokes superbly the grotty down-at-heel flat brilliantly. My problem is it all feels a bit on the nose. Cyril Nri’s Turkey, Dollar’s bagman who drives Mara to her “work”, clearly loves his own two daughters who are the same age as Mara. Is he too wrestling with his conscience? Or is his selfish, blinkered hypocrisy just that – one of the many morally failed people in the play . In the end, he’s just a vile git.
Likewise, as a drama, it doesn’t really go anywhere, a point epitomised in the title. This refers to Beezer’s nickname – his ability of always knowing tomorrow’s weather outlook. By the end we’re told it doesn’t matter – the forecast will always be gloomy. So a bleak start leads to a bleak end and there isn’t much we audiences can do except shake our heads sorrowfully.
box office 0207 870 6876 to 14 Sept