Theatre review: Howie the Rookie

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Howie the Rookie
Landmark Productions at The Barbican
by Mark O’Rowe

Mesmerising. Hypnotic. Electrifying. Words often used loosely in reviews, but they genuinely ring true in the performance delivered to the Barbican Pit audience lucky enough to witness this acting master class.

Mark O’Rowe has taken a fair risk in adapting his 1999 Howie The Rookie play. Originally meant for two actors playing two characters, O’Rowe (directing) has gambled on having one actor convince the audience he is performing two distinctive monologues. But who better to execute a one man show than man of the moment Tom Vaughan-Lawlor?

Vaughan-Lawlor has the audience in the palm of his hand from the offset when playing the Howie Lee. From Dublin’s North-side, Love/Hate fans will welcome his Nidge-like characteristics, but with no cast or discernable props the Dubliner has the luxury of falling back on the brilliant writing of O’Rowe.

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Vaughan-Lawlor is going ninety, and doesn’t miss a beat. Ducking and diving to recreate the dodgy witch hunt for Howie’s arch-enemy the Rookie Lee, the audience are taken on a rollercoaster journey where they see fights, sexual encounters and a scabies epidemic unfold before their very eyes.

The dialogue is so fast at times that it is a struggle to keep up, but Vaughan-Lawlor brings us right back to where he wants us with intense conclusions to his asides – coupled with a few C-bombs for good measure.

He shimmies, minces even, at times around the stage which transforms into estates, houses, pubs and streets of north Dublin, but brings a vulnerability and sometimes an unexpected likeable nature to the dreadful and vulgar attitude of his character.

After an entertaining ride, O’Rowe wraps up the first monologue, and the end of the Howie Lee, with a bang. A sledgehammer blow of tragedy delivered so intensely that we feel there has to be another joke coming.

And that’s it. With a change of a t-shirt, out comes the Rookie Lee, Howie’s lothario polar opposite. And not once are we reminded of the Rookie’s physical similarity to the Howie.

The same drawl is there, but less pronounced. The same physicality there, but with more grace. Rookie’s interpretation of events are similar, and after a guilt-ridden entertaining fight scene, the characters are reunited and connected forever.

O’Rowe’s play is gripping, gritty, moving. But the jewel in the crown is Vaughan-Lawlor’s execution of it. Never once allowing himself or the audience come up for air, every single person in the Barbican Pit is immersed in the most horrifying and captivating event that could comfortably go on for a further 80 minutes. Cannot be missed.

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