Park Theatre, London – until 14 September 2019
The Weatherman, Eugene O’Hare’s full-length debut play opens with brief sunny spells but it’s clear that the forecast is for a stormy and changeable production.
The temperature at London’s Park Theatre plummeted from an opening warm front – with Mark Hadfield slightly over-egging his drunk act – to a deep depression that remained fixed for the remainder of the performance.
I kept asking myself whether paying theatregoers, which, as a critic, I’m not, would view a story of sex trafficking and paedophilia as suitable for theatrical entertainment. It’s not a bad play but it is a deeply unsettling and profoundly unsavoury and, I found, increasingly unpalatable as it progressed.
It’s thought-provoking, obviously, and harrowing, and yes, it’s a subject that we must all care about – but is it something we want to watch for pleasure?
The Weatherman is Hadfield’s Beezer, a lifelong loser whose only claim to fame is being able to predict tomorrow’s weather. He shares a dingy London flat with Archie O’Rourke (Alec Newman), a former nightclub doorman, now a nervous, paranoid, scruffy oik whose mental state teeters on the edge.
When we first meet them the men bicker and slap each other about. It’s very Pinteresque. Beezer is stumbling about after a night on the razz and O’Rourke is trying to sober him up and bring him to his senses. It’s amiable, a few laughs. Two blokes from the underbelly of society sniping at each other like an old married couple.
O’Rourke reveals that they are being offered six months free rent and £200 a week by their gangster landlord, Dollar, to look after a package for six months. Beezer thinks it’s a fighting dog and he’s worried. The audience goes along with the deceit.
But suddenly the climate changes and the narrative becomes so cold and intense that all thoughts of this being billed as a black comedy drama are forgotten. The humour is eradicated…in an instant. It turns out that they are being asked to care for a 12-year-old Romanian street urchin. She has been rescued by a benevolent Dollar from a life of abject poverty – to be photographed and abused by men in the UK.
Dollar thinks he’s a top guy by saving the terrified girl. What’s a few snaps, a grope, a bit of slap and tickle? It’s stomach-churning.
She’s kept prisoner in the men’s flat, only being taken out when Dollar sends his driver, Turkey, to collect her for “a job.”
But the situation begins to get the better of both Beezer and, particularly O’Rourke, and as the tension rises, it’s inevitable that storm-clouds are gathering.
All four men are loathsome and their detachment about what they are doing to this poor, silent child, is chilling.
The jovial Turkey (where did O’Hare get these names?) initially seems a pleasant enough sort. He’s got girls of his own, almost the same age as the mute Mara (Niamh James).
So it’s even more appalling when you see Cyril Nri’s smirking father-of-two emerge from the bathroom looking both shifty and jubilant, followed by the half-naked youngster.
David Shaal makes your flesh crawl as the psychotic, intimidating, frightening Dollar who loves his mum, god bless her.
He gives one of those wonderfully underplayed performances which suggests he’s a bit of a wide boy, doing deals and considerate to his employees/ tenants, when the reverse is true.
Niamh James, making her stage debut, doesn’t utter a word throughout, yet still breaks your heart with a compelling turn as the sex slave.
The Weatherman isn’t an easy play to watch and, honestly, I didn’t enjoy it, but you can’t ignore its power to provoke.
The Weatherman runs on the Park 200 stage until September 14.
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