Rookie moves

Tom in character for Howie the Rookie
Tom in character for Howie the Rookie

David Hennessy talks to Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, star of Love/Hate, about his one man show Howie the Rookie about how it could introduce theatre to a whole new audience.

Well known for playing ruthless gang boss Nidge in RTE’s phenomenally successful gritty crime drama, Love/Hate, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is getting ready to bring Howie the Rookie to London after successful Irish and Edinburgh runs.

Tom is excited by the hope that fans of Love/Hate will be tempted to see Howie the Rookie and could be converted to the medium. Tom tells The Irish World: “That has been the case in Ireland. A lot of people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre came to the show (play) originally because they’re fans of the (TV) show and that’s a bonus.

“I think it’s a great thing for people who haven’t got a considered passion for theatre or they might be slightly wary of theatre in terms of price or in terms of how it’s sometimes seen as slightly higher brow than television for whatever reason.

“I think when theatre is good, it’s really really special so it would be wonderful to think that people would come to see the show because of Love/Hate and as a result go away with a new respect or hunger for theatre. That would be a wonderful bonus.”

Tom with Love/Hate cast mates Mark Dunne, Peter Coonan and Laurence Kinlan
Tom with Love/Hate cast mates Mark Dunne, Peter Coonan and Laurence Kinlan

The play sees Tom play both characters Howie Lee and Rookie Lee, taking the audience through an urban nightmare through both perspectives. Although the characters have been played by two actors previous productions, writer and director Mark O’Rowe felt Tom could do both roles justice and that it was also unfair to put another actor up against him.

After touring Ireland and performing in Edinburgh last year, Tom had no hesitation when he was asked to reprise the roles for Dublin, London and New York dates: “It’s an amazing play and the opportunity Mark gave me in terms of playing both roles was such a massive challenge but so exciting and I loved the play so much that there was no question that after they asked if I wanted to it that I would come back. It’s a very exciting play to do and I’m very lucky to be able to play both parts.”

The Irish World heard last year that Tom was “wetting himself” when he realised he had been offered not one but both roles. Is it still scary? “Oh yeah. Oh God, yeah. I didn’t realise how scary until I came back to rehearsals. In my head, I was like, ‘I know the lines so it will be fine’, but you forget that knowing the lines, knowing the moves is one thing but going in front of audience is a completely different thing.”

The play begins with Howie Lee explaining why he and his gang are going after Rookie Lee because they believe he infected them with scabies while the second half of the show takes the story from Rookie’s perspectives. Although Tom doesn’t see either Howie or Rookie as fundamentally bad people, would they be similar to Nidge in that they inhabit a heightened world? “Honestly, I’d say they are very, very different. They don’t engage in.. Nidge is a criminal and they are young men who live very raw lives but who aren’t involved in crime, they’re not drug dealers like he is. I think there’s a similarity in terms of energy or dynamic to a degree but I think fundamentally they’re very different.”

Series five of Love/Hate is currently airing in Ireland. Over the previously series, Tom’s Nidge has risen to be the gang boss but it has come at the price of an IRA price on his head and countless other enemies. Is Nidge now tortured by how he treated his only loyal friends Robbie and Tommy? “Yeah, I think he’s a man with a conscience buried underneath all his bravado and his iron veneer. There is a conscience and there is a complex messed up humanity that now and again seeps out but he’s a complex man.”

An old wrong he did to Fran also looks certain to come back to haunt Nidge. Anyone who says the show glamorises violence need only watch to see that Nidge has become a nervous wreck as the police are now the very least of his problems: “Yeah, I think he’s a man who has just the daily stress of being a father and a husband mixed up with the daily stresses of being pursued from different angles and being under pressure in his work.

“He’s paying a very high price psychologically and emotionally for the life he chose, but he’s a big survivor as well. He is like a Beckett character. He goes on, he survives. He endures. He’s a fascinating man.”

For the full interview, see the November 8 Irish World. 

Howie the Rookie is at The Barbican November 19-29. For more information, go to http://www.barbican.org.uk/ or http://howietherookie.com/.

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