Reviewed – 21st August 2019
“Niamh James, fresh out of drama school, does a terrific job in making Mara a real, living presence on stage”
The Park nails its colours to the mast immediately concerning the content of this play. On each seat is an A5 sheet of paper; on one side, MODERN SLAVERY AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN THE UK/SPOTTING THE SIGNS, and on the other, WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP, detailing how to report it, and the logos of eleven organisations that work to support victims and to end this horrific practice. Similarly, in the director’s note, just after the title page of the script, which all reviewers were kindly given at this performance, Alice Hamilton devotes one paragraph out of five to the statistics of global human trafficking – ‘a recent reckoning produced an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, of whom 10.1 million are children trapped in forced labour or sexual exploitation’.
This is what Eugene O’Hare has chosen to write a play about, and yet, in this play (running time two hours twenty minutes including interval), we see and hear four middle-aged men talk – frequently at length; O’Hare is fond of a long monologue – and talk and talk, whilst a teenage girl, introduced on page 35 of a 75 page script, remains mute throughout. We know she is Romanian, and that her name is Mara, but her thoughts, feelings and experiences do not exist. Niamh James, fresh out of drama school, does a terrific job in making Mara a real, living presence on stage, but it is unbelievable that in 2019, a male playwright can feel that the best way of exploring this subject is to present the only woman on stage as a passive, representative victim, whilst the men around her invite us to laugh with them and feel their fears and their personal pain. If the Bechdel test was conducted with a thermometer, the mercury would boil and the glass explode.
There is some stellar acting on display in this production. There isn’t a weak link in the five-strong cast, and Alec Newman, as the tortured (yes, have a think about that for a second) O’Rourke and David Schaal, as the terrifying Dollar, in particular, give bravura performances. There is a lot for the actors to get their teeth into; O’Hare relishes male language, whether it be quickfire banter, gangland menace or sentimental pissed-up musings. There’s no doubt that these have their charms. There are some good gags in this piece (alongside some more questionable ones) and Dollar’s nastiness is palpable, but added up, and in the light of the subject matter, it just all seems rather indulgent. The register of language is also uneven, both tonally, and in terms of time period. Dollar appears to have walked straight in from the 1950s East End of the Krays, whilst the other four characters are firmly rooted in the present (though does anyone now use the anachronistic ‘water closet’?)
James Perkins’ design works very well – it was a terrific creative touch for the outside of the stairs to visually echo the outside of a shipping container – and Alice Hamilton’s direction is steady and assured, but there simply is no getting past the blatant erasure of the female voice here. Bob Dylan once wrote, ‘You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows’; it’s clear that Eugene O’Hare’s Weatherman hasn’t got the faintest idea.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Piers Foley
Park Theatre until 14th September
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: