Mark O'Rowe is often placed in the trinity of new Irish playwrights that includes Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh. While each takes a visceral look at contemporary Ireland, O'Rowe's language has an intensity that leaves him out on his own.
His critically acclaimed work, 'Howie the Rookie', comprised a series of monologues spoken by two characters, communicating only with the audience and not each other. While powerfully engaging, the monologues forbid interaction between the two protagonists leaving us to merely guess at Mark O'Rowe's potential where dialogue is concerned. However, with his new play 'Made in China', the dark, dirty Dublinisms rail forward with a vengeance. This three-hander is set in what appears to be contemporary Dublin; there is an underworld quality to the city, a futuristic, fatalistic zone inhabited by gang members, bowsies and villains.
We meet Hughie (Anthony Brophy), a member of the Echelons, a violent Dublin gang, whose seriously ill mother – the victim of a recent road accident – is in hospital. Although once a committed, impassioned Echelon, he is beginning to doubt the legitimacy of violence and his continued membership of the gang. Paddy (Luke Griffin), his insecure, intellectually challenged friend, and non-gang member envies the apparent glamour of the gang world, and longs to be a part of it to gain some respect. Despite their seeming differences the two men are close friends until the disruptive arrival of Kilby (Andrew Connolly), another Echelon member who is sent as an emissary of Puppacat, the Echelon big boss. Hughie has become increasingly distant from the organisation and Kilby's arrival is to test his allegiance, forcing him to undertake an attack he wants no part of.
The disintegration of Hughie and Paddy's friendship ensues as the latter's desire to be part of the gang overtakes everything else, including his regard for Hughie. The reasons for the fraught relationship between Kilby and Hughie are also explored and some dark secrets from the past eventually come back to haunt all the characters.
The language throughout is aggressive and vulgar, but brilliantly descriptive and realistic. As well as violent scenes there are some disturbing simulations of sexual attacks perpetrated by men on other men. Although not for the faint-hearted, there are lots of hilarious moments, and the sharp, riveting plot is driven by superbly comic, dark dialogue. Ultimately this tale explores the friendship amongst a group of misanthropic misfits.
While the performances of Anthony Brophy and Luke Griffin as Hughie and Paddy are laudable, it is Andrew Connolly who steals the show. He is outstanding as the scatalogically obsessed Kilby. All three are messed-up misfits in their own very different ways; they live in a claustrophobic underworld where criminals wear John Rocha shirts and eat crisps called 'nik-nax'. Mark O'Rowe recently asserted that all he wants to do is 'tell a good story'; 'Made in China' is good, but it's also bad, ugly and brilliant.
'Made in China' is at the Peacock Theatre until 13 May.