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Caomhan Keane speaks to writer Mark O’Rowe and actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.

Howie tells a story. Then Rookie takes it up. It’s a white-knuckle ride – a wild, urban odyssey through a nightmare landscape, hilarious and grotesque by turns. Meet the enormous Avalanche, monstrous on the bar stool in her white ski pants. Meet Ladyboy, a dangerous gangland thug with Siamese fighting fish and – it is rumored – three sets of teeth. Meet Mouse, Howie’s younger brother. Meet the Howie. Meet the Rookie.

Springing from the same pen as Intermission and starring Nidge from Love/HateHowie the Rookie is the latest theatrical blockbuster from Landmark Productions (Misterman,TestamentBetween Blackrock and a Hard Place).

Why are you turning a two hander into a one hander?

Mark: I think when I wrote it there was always a sense that it was not just a play about two separate people but also two important aspects of the male psyche. If you looked at it through two separate actors you would get one thing. But if you had one actor do both parts, different things would bubble to the surface. Different aspects, ideas and themes.

What has the play gained from this transformation?

Mark We have been working on script or a while. And now we are doing run -throughs it still seems quite strong an idea and consistent. Once it’s understood its one person, playing both parts, there is honesty in that contract with the audience in what they are expecting to see. Like there is no point making Howie look different to the Rookie. They’re the same actor. If you were going to do that why not just hire two actors? So while they feel like two different people, there is energy when the second guy is talking about the first guy, an extra element that makes the whole thing slightly profound.

How did it come about? Was it your own idea or Landmarks?

Mark They approached me with the idea of just doing it. Because it had been done before and the original was done extremely well it felt a bit boring. I didn’t think I would enjoy rehearsals. But when Tom’s name was mentioned I immediately thought to myself ‘this is such an amazing actor and such an amazing resource that having him just do Howie or the Rookie would be like having him working at half strength. I wanted to push him and challenge him and show the audience what he could do. I wanted the attraction of the play to be around that complexity and subtlety and endurance and brilliance. One guy playing the whole play straight through.

It was also quite tough to imagine another actor to have the same level of skill as Tom. It sort of went from ‘who do I cast opposite him’ to ‘why don’t I just cast him in both parts’. And it
tied into all those other themes of duality and that kind of stuff.

What was the appeal for yourself, Tom?

I had seen Terminus at the Peacock and thought it was amazing. But when my agent suggested that this might be a possibility, because I was doing Love/Hate I just thought; ‘No, it’s too close, it’s a similar world.’ But I hadn’t read it in years and when I did it was just mind blowing, the language. As an actor it was a challenge I just couldn’t pass up.

And how are you approaching that challenge?

It’s great. We rehearse them alongside one another. Different times of the day are designated to different characters so we are always in conversation with them being in conversation with each other. Keeping a foot in both camps and making sure the counter points and similarities are all there. Building them together. Not separately.

It must be exhausting?

Theatre stamina is very different from film stamina. You learn as a young actor, from playing big parts, the mistakes that will prepare you for the same size roles later on in your career. I played Christy Mahon fairly early in my career. And I hadn’t had the experience of playing big parts on big stages for several months. So I was just dead by the end. Burnt out. I hadn’t paced myself. I didn’t have the off stage discipline. Making sure you look after yourself. Get enough rest. Thank kind of thing.

Mark, The New York Times said Tarantino and Mamet were clear influences on Howie. Would you concur?

Well I like both of them. Mamet was a big influence. Tarantino less so. I think anything that has a gun or bad language people go Tarantino. Which is quite lazy? I saw a review of Terminus recently in America. Its full of demons and angels and the supernatural. And it got described as ‘a play in the Trainspotting vein’. It’s completely different. I mean all these years later they spot a bit of vulgarity in a piece of art that is from the same side of the world and they go straight to the more obvious. But I can’t deny the Mamet thing. Most writers who started in my generation would claim him as an inspiration.

You have written for film and for theatre. What’s the difference?

Screenwriting you can’t be yourself as much as play writing. Things that make you distinctive you have to turn it down. Whereas in theatre it’s all about what makes you distinctive. You can be a bit distinctive in film but if you lose the run of yourself then your stuff just won’t get made.

Is that something you learnt from experience?


Comparing Scottish theatre to Irish theatre in The Metro in 08 you said ‘playwrights here have a thirst to turn out sharp provocative theatre and critics and society want to explore what is going on. In Ireland that doesn’t happen’. Have your feelings changed on the matter?

It’s a subjective opinion. But I kind of feel critics and programmers, for something to exist; they feel it has to be speaking about modern society. But the line that runs through theatre, from the Greeks to now, is not society, its humanity. Everything else is secondary. You can comment on society second hand as long as the place you are digging into is human nature.

That’s why Shakespeare’s plays work as well now as they ever did. I sometimes feel some people are saying less of that and more of what we can see in front of us on the news or TV. That also makes things easier to categorise. Theatre should be deeper and more complex. I have zero interest in saying anything about society. I don’t think it’s our job to teach. It’s to tell stories. If the audience wants to take something out of those stories, that’s fine. But once we spot the author putting things in that we are supposed to take as a lesson from, that’s when it reveals itself as a mechanism and it stops working.

Any one or thing get you excited in the past ten years?

The people of my generation-Martin, Conor, Marina, Enda. I like them all. I couldn’t single one out. In England, Jerusalem, the power of the actor, of one man and great text, I thought was astonishing.

What about you Tom?

Nothing springs to mind. Christ Deliver Us at the Abbey I thought was a great show. Because I live in London I don’t get to see a lot. There was an amazing production of The Three Sisters by a guy called Benedict Andrew in the Young Vic, a modern take. It was brilliant.

What’s next for you Mark?

I have a new play for the Abbey. We’re going to do that, touch wood, next year.The production will open at Project Arts Centre, Dublin on 17 June and then tour to The Everyman, Cork (16 – 20 July) and Galway Arts Festival (22 – 27 July).