The Howie and the Rookie are on different sides of a brawl one boozy night deep in Dublin’s underbelly. It starts with a violent fight over a scabies-infested mattress but fate, some Mayan gods and a pair of dead Siamese fighting fish bring the two men together in ways nobody could have predicted.
At times it’s impossible to keep up with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s sprawling monologues, thick with Irish slang and the drooling, loose tongue of a drunk. But we still hang on every last word, even if they’re hard to grasp – his performance is curiously enthralling. As he drags his body (and his knuckles, Neanderthal-style) from pub, to bar, to the bed of a girl so fat and repellent she’s known only as ‘The Avalanche’, he creates something mesmeric with repeated movements, and aggression shrouded in something a bit like dance.
There’s something a bit like poetry, too, as the words of Howie and the Rookie are as rich as they are repellent. Vaughan-Lawlor relishes them, rolling them round in his mouth before spitting them out at us with an accusation and a challenge. First he’s the Howie, a man on the edge, too ugly to pull the best “dollies” and wounded by a recent tragedy. With a quick change of his t shirt he is the Rookie, the Howie’s cocksure counterpart who’s about to spiral into a tragedy of his own. He’s blisteringly good in both parts and it’s clear to see how this performance won him the Irish Times’ Best Actor award.
Both the performer and the play’s writer, Mark O’Rowe, certainly know how to spin a yarn. Howie and the Rookie is a tightly written piece and with Vaughan-Lawlor’s electric performance it becomes storytelling at its finest: a grubby, dysfunctional fable.