Writer: Eugene O’Hare
Director: Alice Hamilton
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
In the first of his two plays receiving their world premieres at the Park Theatre this year, Eugene O’Hare turns to a retro style of black comedy in order to explore deeply disturbing modern themes.
At first glance, The Weatherman appears to be an undisguised homage to Harold Pinter’s 1960 play, The Caretaker. Two middle-aged, down-and-out East London men share a dilapidated one-bedroomed flat, owned by a ruthless gangster. The early dialogue is infused with Pinteresque absurdism – “it creeps up on you when you least expect it you see – Christmas; the bastard” – and brings reminders of ‘60s television sitcoms centring on bickering, dysfunctional London families, such as Steptoe and Son.
Director Alice Hamilton seems happy for the opening scenes to be played for comedy, while ensuring that, also in the style of Pinter, a sense of hidden menace is ever-present. This is a flat where every arrival (bar one) is preceded by loud thumping on the stairs. Designer James Perkins’ set is a cheaply-furnished kitchen diner, with only murk discernible beyond its windows.
O’Rourke (Alec Newman) is the dominant flatmate, but a man of few words. We know that he is angry, but, for a long time, we have no idea why. Beezer (Mark Hadfield) is a shambolic drunkard who claims that he could have been a meteorologist if he had put his mind to it. He still forecasts the weather every day. Their landlord is Dollar, played by David Schaal with a veneer of benevolence masking deep-rooted evil. Dollar is an East End villain who exploits his victims without mercy, but also possesses a warped vision of family and loyalty. “She was a crook and a womaniser, but she was still my mother” he boasts, tearfully.
The play moves into even darker territory when Dollar brings to the flat Mara (Niamh James), a 12-year-old Romanian girl. The offer that O’Rourke and Beezer can’t refuse is six months free of rent and some extra cash. The terms are that they look after the girl and only allow her out of the flat when Dollar’s heavy, Turkey (Cyril Nri) accompanies her for a “job”. Fortunately, both writer and director realise that there is nothing remotely funny about child trafficking for prostitution and the delicate balance between comedy and drama is carefully maintained.
The most memorable and moving scene comes at the beginning of the second act when O’Rourke sits with Mara, folding old clothes for despatch to a charity shop and he sets about offloading all his problems, knowing fully that the girl has no understanding of English. Newman finds all the pathos in his character and in the desperate situation. O’Hare is writing about the terrors of exploitation and he offers the bleak prognosis that the dice will always be loaded against the exploited. Mara, lying on a camp bed at the front of the stage while the nastiness unfolds behind her, creates a profoundly unsettling image.
For all its humour, The Weatherman has a gloomy outlook on human nature. However, bold, if derivative, writing and outstanding acting make the production genuinely suspenseful and absorbing.
Runs until 14 September 2019 | Image: Piers Foley