John O’Donovan’s debut play has been peripatetically touring since its 2016 premiere. Exeunt have already covered it twice; at the Red Lion, and at Dublin – so why am I tub-thumping about it again at its latest outing at Vault Festival? It’s not just that it has one of the best titles of all time, it’s because it’s bloody good.
Two young men are stuck on roof, trying to outwit the Gardaí. They are partners in crime, best friends and lovers. Each facet of their relationship does not lessen the other, instead braiding into the bond that holds the two together. Their love feels heart-breakingly real. Mikey’s (Alan Mahon) adoration of Casey (Josh Williams) is beautifully simultaneously sincere and playful, it doesn’t need speeches or lofty abstract metaphors – it is, to paraphrase Mikey – ‘obvious, like’. Georgie de Grey’s design isolates them on the angled roof top, one false step could be fatal, a fall into Derek Anderson’s lighting, a swirling mist of uncertainty.
Their conversation covers a lot of ground in an hour, revealing the violence and homophobia that they except as part and parcel of their existence. It is testament to O’Donovan’s writing but also to the perfectly paced direction of Thomas Martin that the subject matter never descends into an ‘issue’ play, as so many LGBTQ+ dramas seem doomed to. Mikey, as a proudly out, gay man in a rural Irish town, has always had to fight for acceptance and respect. Casey, as young and black and from Croydon has created his own armour to retreat into, tortoise like against his sadistic stepfather and oblivious mother. Despite Mikey’s swagger, a sense of fear booms through this play like a nervous heartbeat. Fear of brutality, of violent reprisal but most of all, rejection.
Williams endows Casey with an endearing, youthful gentleness. His softness a perfect counter to Mikey’s delinquent with a heart of gold. But this is Mahon’s show, his one liners and teasing of Casey hilarious, wringing every drop of musicality from the Irish vernacular. His ability to discuss abhorrent brutality as great craic (‘You put him in a coma!’ ‘Yeah, an induced coma’) in the wrong hands would be sickening but in Mahon’s has the audience ready to pop down the police station and bail him out. As Mahon skilfully peels back to the character’s actual tenderness and hurt, you feel that his fierceness was a purposeful necessity for him to survive.
I’m going to say it again slowly, because I don’t quite believe it, If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You is O’Donovan’s DEBUT… as in this is the first play he had professionally performed. That’s like going straight to perfect eyebrow drawing without the indignity of 1990s over-plucked tadpoles. It’s admirable and envy-inducing: aren’t playwrights supposed to emerge slowly, blinking into the light still sticky from their cocoon? Not kick down the wall of their chrysalis in full butterfly brilliance with a text you want to put straight on the syllabus.
If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You is on until 25 February 2018 at Vault Festival 2018. Click here for more details.