Love, Peace and Robbery

Cork Rep Company presents 'Love, Peace and Robbery' by Liam Heylin.

Cork Rep Company presents 'Love, Peace and Robbery' by Liam Heylin.

Liam Heylin’s play has weathered well in the five years since it was first produced in this country, its timeless tale of small-time criminals struggling to make good easily straddling the distance between boom and bust Ireland, indicating how little some people’s lives were actually changed during the supposed good times.

Heylin, who works as a court reporter for his day job, knows his subject matter intimately. This play is born specifically from interviews conducted with former inmates of Cork prison, but no doubt the writer has also mined his years watching in court the results of chaotic lives and poor decisions to create a piece of work that feels authentic, and, despite its comedic overtones, has something serious to say. His characters – forgotten, struggling, insignificant – are, after all, rarely seen or heard on the Irish stage.

The playwright keeps the landscape of this play small and contained, but it is not narrow. Just out of jail Garry and Darren (Aidan O’Hare and Shane Casey confidently reprising their roles from the original production) are doing their best to keep on the straight and narrow, attending a state-sponsored training course during the day, drinking tinnies on the heath by night, and making efforts to reclaim their relationships with partners and children during the rest of their time.

Garry, a separated father, and veteran of the prison system, is determined to finally keep out of trouble, and to do his duty as a family man. Darren, the younger of the two, keeps as his focus a mission to get to New Jersey, where he will rejoin his ex-girlfriend who has moved there. The two are not Love/Hate-style gangsters, and Heylin writes his characters with empathy – no complex anti-heroes these. Nonetheless, the portraits are unsentimental – in Heylin’s universe, at least, the pair are offered the chance at redemption, by family and by society: the choice to reject this is theirs alone, and the responsibility falls on their shoulders. Choices, responsibility, consequences: this is the stuff of human lives the world over.

As in the original production, director Donal Gallagher (directing the play here for the first time) plays up the magical, illusionary aspects of theatre, which transport the play out of the realm of gritty documentary or social realism and to a much more soft-edged, captivating place.

Actor Ciaran Bermingham moves about O’Hare and Casey, playing a cast of thousands: a sulky teenage son, a tough, but not unfair local garda and even a talking dog – a surreal, marijuana-induced sequence sees Darren hold a conversation with his pet, who turns out to be a lot wiser than his master, or for that matter, most of us human beings. Bermingham has to work hard, but he clearly relishes his role in the show, and it is the sequences involving his various parts, along with Heylin’s use and understanding of the possibilities of the distinctive Cork accent, that give the play its comedic power.

Gallagher, an accomplished director, also manages to create a more stylised production than the original, rooting it firmly in the landscape and possibilities of the theatrical medium: in his hands, the play feels confident, fluid and finely balanced, a strong piece of work from the Cork Rep Company, and hopefully indicative of equally engaging work to come.

Rachel Andrews is an arts journalist and critic based in Cork.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Love, Peace and Robbery by Liam Heylin

15 -26 January, 2013

Produced by Cork Rep Company
In Cork Arts Theatre

Directed by Donal Gallagher

With: Shane Casey, Aidan O'Hare, CiarĂ¡n Bermingham