Park Theatre – until 14 September 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Eugene O’Hare’s dark debut play is unapologetically grim and disturbing in its approach to human trafficking and modern slavery. For the promise of 6 months’ rent free and some extra cash, broke flatmates O’Rourke (Alec Newman) and Beezer (Mark Hadfield) agree to keep Mara (Niamh James), a twelve-year-old Romanian girl, in their flat for landlord Dollar (David Schaal).
What begins as a depressingly funny version of The Odd Couple, with O’Rourke and Beezer trading barbs and oddball one-liners soon shifts into an increasingly bleak study of intimidation, coercion and complicity. Instead of dehumanising the protagonists, O’Hare’s writing manages to portray each character’s humanity, in varying levels of ugliness, strength and despair, giving each the space to develop. Director Alice Hamilton’s light touch ensures the cast make every beat count, with silent moments conveying as much as O’Hare’s monologues.
The men’s denial about what they are involved in involves a lot of circular and ludicrous explanations about the life these children would be living anyway, but the knowledge that he is as trapped as Maya slowly dawns on O’Rourke as the second act becomes a series of brilliantly delivered monologues as Mara and then O’Rourke listen in wary silence to a man with power over them.
Niamh James impresses as Mara – never speaking, but conveying the fear and pain of the child, as well as glimpses of resilience and strength. Alec Newman’s performance is extraordinary as O’Rourke, squeezing every drop of emotion out of O’Rourke’s sensitively written and recognisable history and portraying his growing self-disgust effortlessly. Mark Hadfield’s shambolic Beezer is also a triumph, and Cyril Nri steadily ramps up the intensity in his smilingly menacing performance as Dollar’s driver Turkey. David Schaal’s Dollar is a bit of a stereotype, smartly suited, cultured and amiable on the surface, but the manner in which he terrorises his victims and his employees is acute and brilliantly written. Beneath the smiles, the gentle anecdotes about his mother and the apparent generosity the threat of violence is always lurking beneath the surface and the power he relishes is obvious. This terrifying character needs a trigger warning.
Wisely there is no happy ending or any sign of resolution, as the reality of modern slavery is a huge problem for the country. What O’Hare does in keeping Mara voiceless and denying her the chance to tell her story may not please everyone, but by shifting the focus to the men involved at different levels along the food chain he has created a disquieting study of fear, morality and self-delusion. Even with lots of dark and ridiculous humour throughout, The Weatherman isn’t an easy watch – but it is well worth the effort. A remarkable debut from Eugene O’Hare.