LOVE, Peace and Robbery, a comedic crime caper play by Irish Examiner/Evening Echo court reporter, Liam Heylin, will be staged at the Cork Arts Theatre from Jan 15-26. The award-winning play, first produced by Meridian Theatre Company in 2007, has been critically acclaimed for its astute portrayal of petty criminals who just can’t resist ‘one last heist’ for motives that they feel they can justify. Gary, played by Aidan O’Hare, and Darren, played by Shane Casey, have just been released from prison, but they are subject to curfews and a substance abuse treatment programme.
As O’Hare says of his character, Gary is trying to go straight.
“He’s in counselling, attempting to get his head together. But an opportunity arises for his stepson to go to Old Trafford to see his local soccer team play. To get the stepson there will cost €360.”
Gary doesn’t have the readies but Darren knows a handy sub-post office just a few miles out of town. And so the farce ensues, with Darren trying to raise money to join his ex in America. At the core of the play, directed by Dónal Gallagher, is the question of whether the guys will ever break free of their deviant behaviour.
O’Hare explains that Heylin “kind of created a drama out of the transcripts of interviews he did with prisoners. As well as that, Liam spends a lot of time in court, reporting on sentences being passed, witnessing girlfriends crying in the hall and kids oblivious to it all. The play was written around the time of the Celtic Tiger. But the two characters never benefited from the Celtic Tiger. They always struggled.”
That’s not to say that the play is sympathetic towards the underworld figures. “But it does show them in a human light. What they did was wrong and they deserved to be punished. But these people are often forgotten about. There’s a human face to everyone that goes into prison. They’re not just scumbags.
“More than anything, the play is an example of a great piece of writing and there’s an audience out there for it.
“Keegan Theatre Company staged a production of it in New York. It’s not morose and heavy-going. It’s actually hilarious. Darren looks up to Gary. He actually thinks that prison life is a rite-of-passage. He is starting out on his criminal life and gets a buzz out of it. Gary, who has been there and seen it all, is a kind of mentor to Darren. It’s a bit like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ with one guy showing the other guy the ropes, but also trying to prevent him from getting hurt.”
Ciarán Bermingham plays multiple roles, including a detective and a talking dog. “The dog kind of holds up a mirror to Darren’s life. He is basically looking for love but has no one to turn to or look after him.”
O’Hare was in the original production of the play that was performed in Cork Prison for the inmates. “It was probably the most thrilling experience of my acting career. I had certain fears that we might be patronising towards the prisoners. There was a certain trepidation going into the prison. Pardon the pun but the prisoners were the most captive audience I’ve ever played to. They were hanging on every word. A lot of them were looking at mirrors of their own situations. They were in prison and then, when let out, they wouldn’t have money for their children’s schoolbooks and holidays.”
Describing the play as both funny and poignant, O’Hare is full of praise for Gallagher’s directorial style. “He really teases out each scene and gets behind the lines. He’s incredible at cracking the scenes open and getting to the heart of them.”
The set is minimalist. “That’s because there’s a possibility that we’ll be bringing the play to Bewleys in Dublin.”
O’Hare says acting work in Cork “comes in fits and spurts.” He played Tom Barry in the successful production of Guerilla Days in Ireland which toured the country. “There’s talk of it going to the Gaiety this year. We did it in the Olympia last year, playing to audiences of 1,000 people a night.”
This spring, a film called Life is a Breeze opens with O’Hare playing alongside comedian and actor, Pat Shortt and Hollywood actor, Fionnuala Flanagan.
The premise of this comedy, directed by Lance Daly, is that a mattress containing €1m is accidentally thrown out and dumped.
“Pat Shortt’s character is doing a clearing out of his mother’s house.I play a Cork guy who is one of the scavengers looking for the mattress. It’s very funny,” says O’Hare, who is always happy to play a Cork man with a bit of wit.