Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Belfast is a place where things need to be said. Jimmy and Ian are meeting tonight for the first time. They share a violent past. They need to talk.
Quietly is a powerful story about truth and forgiveness. It premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in November 2012 and was nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award for best new play.
The first thing you notice as you enter the theatre for Quietly is the set – filling the small stage of the Traverse downstairs space is a fully reconstructed bar, complete with pork scratchings and KP nuts hanging from the wall. This sets the tone for this entirely naturalistic play, set in an ordinary pub in Belfast that has a tragic and painful history. Having seen a plethora of one man shows, plays with deconstructed narratives and ill-advised musicals, it was a pleasure to relax into the visceral reality that Quietly offered, and marvel at how the actors managed to put away three pints of real beer without dashing off-stage to the toilet.
The play is fairly slow to get going, banter with the Polish barman proving an easy way to establish time and place and sow the seeds for some of the production’s themes. We are warned that the forthcoming meeting may get ‘shouty’, and yes, it must happen in public, in this bar. There is the sense throughout the play that it is crucial the conversation is observed, even if just by a barman who is distracted by a football game. And once the conversation begins, once a middle-aged man enters the bar – softly spoken, calm, and begins speaking to another middle-aged man – angry, bitter, we understand why. Years ago, in 1974, the day of the football match between West Germany and Northern Ireland, Ian killed Jimmy’s father in this very pub.
What transpires is the first (and only) meeting between these men, where years after the event Jimmy is ready to hear what happened, and tell Ian the consequences of those actions on his family. The play is beautifully crafted; not only covering the obvious political history of Northern Ireland’s troubles, and the legacy it has left on the city, but also looking deeper into the impossibility of forgiveness and the emptiness of ‘sorry’. Yes, in this instance we are witness to the story of a protestant boy throwing a bomb into a catholic pub, but there is a universality to what is spoken that could easily have been a catholic killing a protestant or even a Sunni Muslim in Iraq bombing a Shiite temple. This play emphasises how regardless of faith or cause, the pain for those left behind is the same, the body parts of the deceased, scattered across a suburban street are the same.
The performances by Declan Conlon as Ian and Patrick O’Kane as Jimmy are flawless. They are understated and truthful, so as to make you believe that you are in fact just nursing a pint in the corner while these men dissect the past. The role of Robert the barman (Robert Zawadzki) is a small but important one. He is the witness these men so desperately need, and he also serves to emphasise the sad truth that intolerance is still blossoming – as we hear racist chants against the Poles echoing on the street outside as the lights fade within the bar.