UNDERWORLD Dublin burst onto our TV screens last week in the gritty, award-winning Irish crime drama Love/Hate.
The hard-hitting series, currently showing on Channel Five, Wednesdays at 10pm, delves into the criminal underground of Ireland’s capital. Imagine if Trainspotting had been made as a series, only darker and more violent in every way and you get the picture.
Now in its fourth series in the Emerald Isle, Five is screening Love/Hate from the very beginning. In the lawless, drug-fulled and shotgun-ruled underbelly it depicts, characters come and go, but one however, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is ever present. As psychotic “go to” man and fixer Nidge, Vaughan-Lawlor has become a household name in his native land.
As the series takes off in the UK, the actor finds himself in the Capital, starring in the one-man play Howie The Rookie, at the Assembly Hall’s Rainy Hall. Having seen the piece when it opened in Dublin earlier this year, you’ll be hard pressed to see a better production this August.
Playwright Mark O’Rowe’s electrifying epic is a wild, urban odyssey through a nightmare landscape – hilarious, grotesque and, finally, deeply moving.
Meet Ladyboy, a psychotic thug on a quest to avenge the deaths of his Siamese fighting fish. Meet malodorous adrenaline-junkies Flann Dingle and Ginger Boy. Meet Avalanche, a ski-panted monster looking for love. Meet the tragic Mouse. Meet the scabies-afflicted Peaches. Meet the Howie. Meet the Rookie.
“About a year ago, when I was filming Love/Hate, which is set in a similar kind of world , my agent called to say that Mark O’Rowe and Anne Clarke of Landmark Productions were interested in producing Howie The Rookie and wondered would I be interested in being a part of it.
“Initially I was a bit cautious because of the similarities between the TV show and the play. So I read the piece and, although I thought it was amazing, I was still a bit hesitant. But then I found out that they wanted me to play both parts and I got very nervous. I thought, ‘what a challenge that would be.’ Challenges like that don’t come along every day, in fact for an actor it’s the challenge of a lifetime. So I had to go for it.”
First staged in 1999, this new production played to rave reviews earlier this year with Vaughan-Lawlor giving a one-man tour de force as both The Howie and The Rookie. It was a big learn he concedes, especially as he was filming Love/Hate at the same time.
“I had to start learning it in October last year. Love/Hate was filming in March, April and May and we film so fast, with so many lines to learn, that I knew there was no chance I could learn the two at the same time.
“Also, I knew that I had to have it learned by the first day of rehearsals so that I could give it all I have. It was banging around in my head for nine months but it did pay off in the first week of rehearsals because we finished filming Love/Hate on the Friday and started rehearsing this on the Monday.”
Cruel, crude, visceral and a pitch dark humour, Howie The Rookie and Love/Hate share many similarities. Like Mrs Brown’s Boys, many Irish do indeed have a love hate relationship with the series; proud that it’s successful but perhaps not overly impressed by the impression it paints of Ireland to the outside world.
“I think it’s that,” agrees Vaughan-Lawlor. “It’s like Mrs Brown’s Boys. I know people who are so snotty about that here but I take my hat off to Brendan O’Carroll because he works very hard and there are people who love his show. He’s a success and brings great joy to people.
“But in Ireland there’s also that thing of you start in debit and have to prove yourself – you’re crap until we tell you that your not,” he laughs. “That comes from years and years of being let down by TV drama in this country.”
Love/Hate certainly can’t be accused of that, although the 35-year-old recalls, “I remember reading the first script and thinking it was amazing, but there were restrictions as to what we could and couldn’t show and, actually, the first series was received lukewarmly because it was an unknown quantity. In the second writer and creator Stuart Carolan was given more freedom.”
As he was, so the character of Nidge developed. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster for the actor who is only too aware of the savagery he depicts in the series.
“It’s complex because you are playing this morally very questionable character and yet, as an actor, you can’t stand outside him and make judgements because you have to play it for the truth of that man and his desires, his wants and his needs. Sometimes I think, ‘What am I doing..?”
Thankfully, the writing however, ensures that Nidge will never become a hero to the disenfranchised believes Vaughan-Lawlor.
“The minute a character like Nidge is set up as an iconic anti-hero in one scene, Stuart immediately cuts him down in the next by making him do something unspeakably cruel.
“He questions the audience, asking them, ‘Do you really like this guy? Are you sure you like this guy?’ He is always playing within those margins and undercutting the perceived glamour of the characters.”
Right now though, the actor is looking forward to his Fringe debut.
“To my shame I have never been to Edinburgh. All my friends who have been there as actors just rave about it and told me it is one of the best experiences I will ever have as an actor.”
Howie The Rookie, Assembly Hall, The Mound, 12.40pm, until 25 August, £12-£13, 0131-226 0000