The title If We Could Get Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You will win no prizes for brevity and does rather shout ‘fringe theatre’ but the play itself deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.
It is a moving, witty, compelling and utterly authentic story of two young gay men in small-town Ireland. It is a short play, around 75 minutes long, but playwright John O’Donovan manages to survey Irish society both pre- and post-Celtic Tiger and find it wanting.
The play opens with two masked men clambering onto a roof to escape the police – cleverly and economically evoked with sound and lights (Jon McLeod Sound Designer and Derek Anderson Lighting Designer). As they remove their masks we discover that one is black, the other white. As they speak we realise that one is English, the other Irish. As the play unfolds, we find out how they ended up there and whether they will ever be able to escape.
Mikey (Alan Mahon) and Casey (Ammar Dufus) have just broken into a petrol station, broken a hurley over the attendant’s head, but managed to steal just 20 Euro and a few sweets. They have also broken into the house they are hiding out on, which turns out to be Casey’s own house. In fact the whole enterprise has been Casey’s idea, who is desperate to get some money together, for reasons that become apparent.
Veering from hilarious to heart-breaking, the play is driven by a high-energy performance by Alan Mahon as Mikey, the cock-of-the-walk man-about-town in Ennis, County Clare, who knows everyone in the way that people do, but his life has been spent teetering on the edge of jail. He has a temper, but mostly keeps that in check when he is with Casey, whom he clearly loves more deeply than he can express. Casey is an outsider on many counts – in a typical all-white Irish environment, he is black, he is English, and he is gay. He explains how he can never quite fit in to banter with the other lads – it’s like when a girl joins the group and they try to keep it going but it always just goes quiet. To compound matters further the home he shares with his Mum and her boyfriend Bobby is no safe haven – Bobby is violent towards him and his Mother always seem to prioritise her boyfriend’s desires over his. The only real love in his life is Mikey, but even there he is forced to pretend that he has a girlfriend to avoid further physical abuse from Bobby.
The language of the play is distinctly Irish. Even Casey uses the local vocabulary having lived in Ennis for six years – he knows, for example, that the stick they broke over the petrol station guy’s head is called a hurley – although his English accent remains intact. I would have expected him to have picked up some of the local inflections as well, but that is a minor complaint in an evening that is generally pitch-perfect.
The play is set in a confined space from which the characters need to get away – once they have shaken off the Gardaí, they have a Halloween party to go to – but of course it is also a microcosm of the wider world they inhabit. Mikey needs to escape from the endless cycle of petty crime and violence which will inevitably lead to the greater confinement of prison. Casey needs to escape from a violent home and a town where he feels like he will never properly fit in.
Mikey is frustrated with the classic Irish solution of moving away, whether to Dublin or London – isn’t it braver to actually stay where you are and fight? This is personal for him – he eventually admits that the party they are going to is his former boyfriend Paul’s engagement party. He escaped to the relevant anonymity of Dublin where being gay is easier than in Ennis, where you are, as Mikey says, a one-man Pride parade every day. He is dismissive of the idea of gay marriage, ‘making a show of yourself’, and outraged that the very people who used to beat him up are now making money in their hotels and bars from their erstwhile victims with their new-found freedom to be openly gay. He hates his own situation as well, pretending to be ‘friends’ with Casey, jealous of Casey’s ‘girlfriend’, but he thinks moving away would be taking the easy way out.
There are no easy answers to the problems these characters face, maybe no answers at all. But the ending is an affirmation of the power of love – indeed they have had plenty of cocaine and they do end up showing how they love each other. It leaves them, and us, hovering on the brink of further possibilities.
If We CouldGet Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You runs at The Old Red Lion until 24th September and performances begin at 7.30pm.