Howie The Rookie
By Mark O’Rowe
Starring: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
Assembly on the Mound
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
★★★★ (out of five)
Until August 25
THIS one hander hits you like a machine gun of words and language, immediately reminding me of the wordy urban odysseys Bruce Springsteen would take the listener on around New Jersey in 1973.
In this case it’s west Dublin in the late 1990s.
For an afternoon show at the Fringe, this attracts a 40 strong crowd at lunch time when the average is usually around four people.
This perhaps suggests the attraction of the production’s rising actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor currently starring as Nidge in Love/Hate.
Playing two characters with the same surname, Howie and The Rookie Lee (as in Bruce, as is pointed out),come not from the same family but the same desperate underworld of heavy drinking, visceral violence and casual sex.
It’s difficult not to let the two separate characters become one and the original production that appeared on the Fringe well over a decade ago did benefit having two actors underline the different roles.
In this production there is an impending sense of doom as Vaughan-Lawlor draws you into the world of the characters who are racing towards tragedy at break-neck speed.
This is one of the few examples at the fringe when someone completely owns the stage, the actor’s sweat and intensity is literally dripping onto the front row. You immediately believe the character and his struggle.
Vaughan-Lawlor is undoubtedly a gifted actor, his use of tone, expression, dialect and body language command your attention from the word go.
The bloody street fights almost look animated as we follow both characters through a “world of pain.” Mark O’ Rowe’s script undoubtedly leaves the audience with significant questions, but perhaps the most pressing is, what are the choices open to the characters in what is often a grotesque, cruel and relentless existence?
And can they ever escape the manipulative, feral and predatory life in which they run like hamsters on a wheel from gangsters such as The Ladyboy, a brutal underworld figure with three sets of teeth whose description brings to mind a genetic mutant from X-Men.
It’s a nasty world of crime and dysfunction without friends or reason.
A thoroughly entertaining hour and a half that spirits you away to one of the darkest places you’ll find at the Fringe this year.