Meeting point: O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin

There is nothing more poignant than a glimpse at lives only half lived. Played out in the half-light of a temporary space – a genuine inner-city bed & breakfast – a closeted gay man and a rent boy conduct a transaction, exchanging money for company, and their respective jacket and baseball cap suggest two souls that can never make themselves at home. Such is the fine detail of Mark O’Halloran’s new play, delivered at breath-taking proximity, an understated lament for a nation’s social and sexual history.

For his first play in 10 years (the recently premiered Mary Motorhead was retrieved from a drawer, placed there in 2001), O’Halloran’s style owes much to his film writing, which, taken together with the elegiac portrait of Garage, should cement his reputation as a poet of the isolated, the marginalised. It is a play of almost photorealistic detail, which director Tom Creed’s production for THISISPOPBABY has matched with a meditation on intimacy – or at least its facsimile. Its grim look at the business of company and connection has sly implications for a theatre audience. All of us are paying for a service.

If we are cast in the role of voyeurs in this room, it is to look through a peephole straight into a frustrated psychology, where Philip Judge’s older man has contorted his sexuality into marriage and family, a dockworker steeped in denial and unease. “I’m not one of those, you know,” he tells Ciarán McCabe’s chewed-up, sclerotic rent boy – by which he could mean a confirmed homosexual or simply a confident human being. Neither is the young man, a teenage father, whose own brush with intolerance has split himself from his sexuality, toughened him up, numbed his feeling.

These are hard things to express in dialogue of monosyllables, but McCabe, who at times seems to be acting with just his pulse, gives a masterful performance in a production where just a snort or hard swallow can be a potent part of the text.

O’Halloran builds his story with uncommon stealth, like a writer trying to disappear, but Judge’s character, estranged from his son and alienated by his own father, is railing against a society, a suffocating religion and a concealed history when he confronts all the certainties betrayed by his old man. “Left me complicated, he did. Like this. Confused.” In this place at this time, we know the feeling, and in this brief encounter with two damaged, lost men, it closes around your heart like a fist.

Runs until Oct 16
Peter Crawley

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