THEATRE: 20 MAY 2016


Howie the Rookie, by Mark O’Rowe | Directed by Toby Schmitz

Red Line Productions | The Old Fitzroy Theatre (http://www.oldfitztheatre.com), Woolloomooloo, Sydney | Until 11 June

Howie the Rookie comprises two monologues that narrate intersecting stories. These monologues vividly depict the experiences of two young men in Dublin — Howie Lee (Andrew Henry) and Rookie Lee (Sean Hawkins). This multi-award-winning play was written in 1999 by Mark O’Rowe and here in Woolloomooloo, circa 2016, it continues to resonate.

The small stage at the Old Fitzroy is a void, except for a pair of mismatched chairs and a pile of beer-bottle tops. On the chairs sit two men in track suits, one matched and one not matched, the Rookie looking sharp and the Howie looking a little down at heel. The minimalist stage design is quickly occupied as these characters are brought dynamically to life by two outstanding actors.

Howie begins the narrative that weaves its way through the outer streets of modern Dublin. He is on a mission to deal with the Rookie Lee. Once Howie’s story is told, it is Rookie Lee’s turn to skateboard us through his experiences.

Collectively, through these vectors, a regimented path of generational social poverty, introduces us to a motley crew of friends and family. Henry and Hawkins conjure characters — Peaches an urban bottom feeder, the Avalanche, a huge, obese girl usually dressed in white ski pants, and who frequents the pubs and moves in on the local lads when they are least expecting it, and Ladyboy, a gangster whose pets are fighting fish.

This is not the lyrical Dublin of James Joyce, but O’Rowe’s dialogue is just as vivid and visceral. Henry and Hawkins play very similar characters — street wise, lacking foresight and emotional intelligence. They pass their time drinking, brawling and shagging. This pair could not spell politically incorrect, but they could certainly pronounce it.

They are fast-talking urban rappers and O’Rowe’s dialogue, a mix of poetry, updates Beckett and transport us to Kanye country. A razor-sharp rapping scheme ensures the furious pace as it races us through two days of humour and heartbreak. Hawkins and Henry are superb and totally deserve to share kudos in the same paragraph. They shared the Best Actor Award in an Independent Production in 2014 — and deservedly so.

Toby Schmitz, with the assistance of Luke Cowling, expertly directs, and they both create choreography that creates an alarming atmosphere and an overpowering sense of threat. The dialogue spits out with the speed of automatic weapons and Gabrielle Rogers as voice and dialect coach needs to be congratulated for her essential role.

If like me, you missed this first time around, make sure you get along. Thumbs up!

Andrew Henry and Sean Hawkins. All images: Kate Williams.