Theatre Festival review: TRADE
Set and playing in a low-cost B&B on Great Denmark Street, it’s a clever installation that works well at getting the audience of 25 or so into the headspace of the writer. Immediately apparent was the strength of the set design. Whether intentional or a well chosen location, there’s a dinginess here, a grottiness that speaks of low cost and low value. It’s a small venue. We were sitting close to the actors and close to each other on uncomfortable chairs. It worked very well.
Ostensibly a play about the realtionship between a man and a rent boy, TRADE is far more. It’s an unexpectedly emotional, almost sweet play in one sense, despite the storyline with two very strong characters played by Philip Judge and Ciarán McCabe.
It’s the strength of the performances and the dialogue that makes the show so compelling – that might seem like a very obvious thing to point out but here, in a small room, watching two people interact as we see their lives unravelled before us, it provided that intesity that I just wasn’t prepared for.
In a guesthouse in Dublin’s north inner city, a vulnerable and confused young rent-boy sits with a middle-aged client. It’s not the first time they’ve met but today the older man has blood on his shirt. A lot has happened since they last met.
TRADE gives a gritty, realistic portrayal of what you’d imagine male prostitution is – furtive, clandestine meetings in toilets, in guest houses as the customer just wants their ride. We’re told though of how many men use it not just for sex, but for intimacy, for talking. TRADE is a piece not about sex (though it features) or about intimacy (though that features too) or even about sexuality. It was, for me, far more about integrity and the constant struggle to find yourself when all around you and all you depend on is slipping away. It’s about love, loss and identity.
in·teg·ri·ty [in-teg-ri-tee] noun
1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
When TRADE first starts, we’re introduced to the younger rent boy and his older client. They talk. From the very beginning I was uneasy – it wasn’t a pleasant atmosphere and there’s an unspoken undercurrent of violence and of history even in the room itself that was almost palpable.The make-up at the start is a great touch and sets the tone for the rest of the play. If you see it, you’ll understand what I’m getting at.
Philip Judge plays his character remarkably well – he’s credible as an older man of somewhat limited experience, vision and self belief. He’s the type who has lived his whole life trying to fit in to a world where he never will. The revelations about his life and indeed the life of the younger man are integral to the plot so I won’t share them but they come dripping slowly but effectively like splashes of paint on canvas – just when you think you’ve got a hold of what you’re seeing, another splash changes it entirely and not always for the better. Ciarán McCabe‘s portrayal of the younger man brings a very necessary and “lovely” vulnerability and a sensitivity to the play – he’s very well cast and performs accordingly.
Trade is a provocative and moving exploration of desire, morality and duty , and is O’Halloran’s first stage play in ten years.
Mark O’ Halloran is well known and respected for his realistic writing and that hasn’t changed here. The script is very strong – there’s light moments to ease the tension but overall he’s presented the audience with a story they might not be comfortable with but that they could certainly empathise with and believe. O’Halloran plays with honesty – the revelations each character makes are so commonplace and delivered with such understated emotion that they’re more shocking in that place and that time than they’d appear on paper. It’s very clever. The trade here is what you’re willing to listen to in return for what you get told.
Towards the end of the play, a couple of people around me were crying. It’s certainly one that tugs at your heart strings and in the end you almost don’t know where your sympathies should lie – the older, broken man who believes he’s destroyed his life or the younger man with a world of possibilities in front of him but limited courses of action.
Credit to THISISPOPBABY for the strong production values. It’s very cohesive and build-up, set, design, cast and script come together to give us more than we expect. Tom Creed’s direction as well is to be applauded, as the show was yesterday – long, sustained and deserved.
I was moved, I was provoked and I was impressed by TRADE. A play that could have been a much different beast was instead as I described – powerful, intense and strong. It’s a great production – one that deservedly sits in the Theatre Festival and one I’m glad I saw. Expect it to sell out as word spreads – this will be one of the ones to definitely see. It already is.
TRADE runs for approximately 50 minutes and plays until October 16 – see this page for details. Tickets are well worth the €12-€15 if you can get them.
My thanks to Aisling and Shauna at Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival for the review ticket.