'Trade' by Mark O'Halloran produced by THISISPOPBABY at Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

'Trade' by Mark O'Halloran produced by THISISPOPBABY at Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

'Trade' by Mark O'Halloran produced by THISISPOPBABY at Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

'Trade' by Mark O'Halloran produced by THISISPOPBABY at Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

Trade presents a comparatively familiar situation and explores an unsurprising set of questions arising from it, but it does so with good pace in writing and direction and is well performed in an intimate space that greatly enhances the intensity.

The setting is a nondescript hotel room in Dublin, to which the audience is taken in train by Theatre Festival volunteers after meeting at Belvedere College. In this room we find a young man (Ciarán McCabe) seated upon the small bed. He wears Nike and Adidas, and speaks in unassuming monosyllabic ellipsis to the as yet unseen older man (Philip Judge), brushing his teeth in the bathroom with the door half open. When the older man emerges from the bathroom, he assiduously occupies the other side of the room, fighting his impulse to cross over, talking with a mixture of nervous hesitation and internal struggle, speaking of his life, his job (recently lost), his marriage, his family, and occasionally his desire.

There’s some kind of history here, some sense of familiarity between the men, but also a sense of distance. The older man has been in some kind of fight. There is blood on his shirt and his nose has been plugged with tissue. There’s a lingering air of potential violence about him, yet his attitude towards the boy is half friendly, half controlling. He makes reference to previous encounters between the two. He eventually commands the young man to remove some of his clothing, but seems reluctant to get to the business at hand. The young man, for his part, seems eager to conduct the transaction, though he is also content to speak in part of his home: his troubles, his new baby, his fickle girlfriend, his life as a rent boy that pays for everything else.

Mark O’Halloran’s script is sensitive to the contours of this relationship, and to the linguistic and psychological rhythm of the encounter he has described for us. Director Tom Creed is very careful to pace his performers and move them around in the limited space in such a way as to sustain and build tension, catching the shifting energies of how these two men relate to one another as he tells O’Halloran’s tale. With two visible light sources (and some more substantial ones outside the bedroom window), the room is a gulf between these men, and crossings are particular and carefully orchestrated. As the play nears its end, the older man extinguishes the mirror light over the sink on his side and moves into the realm of the bedside lamp where the boy has been lounging in an ever-greater state of undress. The tension is ramped up at each hint of greater intimacy. As the backstory too begins to become more particular, grounding the older man’s need in lack and delusion, Philip Judge’s performance requires even greater care to avoid losing our interest given that there are few surprises amid the narrative, thematic, and emotional beats you would expect given exactly this scenario.

What makes the play work is the execution. This applies on every level. Nothing in the play is startling or original, but everything it does it does well. O’Halloran has given his characters just enough eloquence to achieve connection, but stops short of given them more reflectiveness than they need. The dialogue for the young man is, as noted, fairly limited, but gives the interplay a definite and urgent rhythm as penchant sentiments are covered by verbal shrugs like ‘This is just this’. Creed confronts the audience with a space in which they are but a few feet from the actors, but occupy that often empty valley between them. There’s a kind of metatheatre in the tennis match head movements you will see all around you as your fellow patrons look stage left and right in and out of rhythm with the dialogue.

McCabe and Judge work equally hard to hold up their end of things. McCabe’s uncanny naturalism comes from his relative inexperience, no doubt, but it works very well. O’Halloran has given him dialogue that grounds him in recognisable reality for the most part, and McCabe carries it with a contained sense of self that is altogether too believable. There is often genuine discomfort in watching him, and seeing echoes of young men you would see and know. Judge has to push a lot harder and carry considerably more weight of speech, but his eyes burn with the appropriate intensity of conflicting emotion.

Harvey O’Brien is a writer and critic, and lectures in Film Studies at University College Dublin.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Trade by Mark O'Halloran

29 Sept- 16 Oct, 2011

In Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

Written by Mark O'Halloran

Directed by Tom Creed

Designed by Ciarán O'Melia

Produced by Phillip McMahon

Featuring: Ciarán McCabe and Philip Judge