“Everything inside was blown outside”
Something of a shame as this was the final performance of Owen McCafferty’s Quietly at the Soho Theatre and it turned out to be quite the doozy. A £5 ticket deal sweetened the deal and in a neat twist, a game of international football started just as one in the play did (although it was Belgium vs Russia, as opposed to the Northern Ireland v Poland game of the script). In that Belfast bar, Jimmy is shooting the breeze with Polish barman Robert – the playwright capturing excellently a natural flow of dialogue which continues throughout the whole play – ruminating over what trouble there’ll be on the street if the result doesn’t go the right way.
But Jimmy has bigger things on his mind as is clear when another man, Ian, enters and he headbutts him to the ground. Thus the scene is set for the slow unfolding of the tangled history between the pair, on opposite sides of the religious divide but yet connected in the deepest of ways and McCafferty brilliantly uncoils his plot with a great subtlety. The ‘quietly’ of the title should not be underestimated as after that initial outburst of violence, the physical aspect is then quietened as an eerie stillness descends on the pub as a process of truth and reconciliation is attempted to acknowledge the devastating events of the past.
The writing aches with authenticity and sincerity, the aching anguish that comes from such entrenched hatred as the Troubles resonating with a horrible truth and the recognition that moving on, moving past it is a near-impossible job, especially when so many wounds of the conflict are still felt so keenly. But McCafferty has done well to find a point where these two men have found the necessity of doing just that. Patrick O’Kane is breathtakingly good as Jimmy, constantly on a knife edge as the past threatens to overwhelm him, Declan Conlon’s guilt-ridden Ian is a well-judged foil and Robert Zawadzki’s barman is a crucial third acting both as witness and pointer to the future where intolerance has moved on beyond the emerald isle.