Peacock Theatre, Dublin ****
Quietly is set in the present day in a Belfast pub, when two strangers with a shared history come together seeking forgiveness. Despite the difference in the gravity of their crimes – Ian’s was a public crime, Jimmy’s a domestic failure – both are seeking understanding for the way in which the events of a single night 36 years ago have shaped their lives. The peace process may have neutralised political differences, Owen McCafferty’s play suggests, but personal wounds run deeper.
This is a story frequently told in recent literature from Northern Ireland. McCafferty’s version is placed within a naturalistic structure, meticulously rendered by Alyson Cummins’s realistic set, but the forced confessionals of his two protagonists are essentially monologues. The language is studied, the delivery is rehearsed. These are stories that the men have been telling themselves for years; it is only in their enunciation that they will find release.
But Quietly is about more than truth and reconciliation. The political climate of the Troubles may have been defused, but it has left a vacuum of hatred, and this has been filled by new sectarian divisions, between those tenuously united now in peace and the economic migrants attracted to the optimism of a post-conflict state.
In this respect, it is Robert, the blank-faced Polish barman, who is the most interesting character. Robert is fighting his own demons: history of poverty, a complex love triangle, and daily racial abuse. Are there lessons he can learn from Jimmy and Ian, or is their history a premonition of his own future?
Quietly is a flawed play. The politics are overly elaborated through Jimmy and Ian’s speeches, while the reconciliation is implausible, particularly considering Jimmy’s refusal of forgiveness and Ian’s refusal of regret.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Fay’s production is uneven. The visual presentation of Robert’s text messages is originally rendered, and is an admirable attempt to enhance the character’s inner life, but it is distracting and unnecessary.
However, despite these shortcomings, Quietly is gripping. Robert Zawadzki gives us more than enough complexity in a wonderfully understated performance, and the play is anchored by fine performances from Patrick O’Kane (right), stiff with rage, and Declan Conlon, stoic in self-justification.
Here, McCafferty has given life to some of the most resonant political and social questions of recent years.
Until December 15th