Eugene O’Hare’s jarring, disturbing and often amusing exploration of London’s underclass and its propensity for malice when there’s money to be made – The Weatherman – is excellent.
A job is a job. Or so Archie, Beezer, Dollar and Turkey would have you believe in Eugene O’Hare’s bleak, excellent The Weatherman at the Park Theatre. The trafficking and exploitation of a 12-year-old Romanian girl is just another means through which the four conspirators can pay their rent and put food on the table; not quite a 9 to 5, but, for them, its equated to a run-of the-mill, clock-in clock-out, regular gig. There’s no hiding from the fact that they’re all in on it, yet O’Hare’s skill as a dramatist ensures we find ourselves, to a degree, sympathising with men who keep a young girl as a prisoner. As Archie, who along with his mate Beezer is employed to host the girl in their flat, points out: ‘Everyone’s decent – to a point.’
However, from the start, things are not as decent as they should be. Archie’s trying on a cheap suit in front of a cheap mirror in a cheap flat. Gaffer tape holds together what’s left of the rotting carpet and there’s a padlock on one of the worn-out cupboards that help to make up the kitchenette. The flat is dreary at best and James Perkins’ threadbare set design captures perfectly the monotonous, claustrophobic nature of such a desperate dwelling. Initially, Archie and Beezer’s odd-couple repartee on the latter’s arrival back from the pub is amusing and almost charming, but it’s not long before the former reveals the nature of the job he’s agreed to and things take a turn for the worse.
Beezer, or ‘The Weatherman’ as he’s known on the circuit, is endearingly played by Mark Hadfield. Hadfield revels in his role as the quick-witted, under-achieving sot, who by his own admission, ‘were too lazy’ to apply himself in life. We might like to think he has more latent spirit than he shows, but if he has, we don’t see it; he’s already made his peace with the situation at hand and is happy to take his two hundred a week and free rent. It’s his flat-mate Archie who demonstrates greater moral backbone, in spite of his serious mental health problems. Indeed, as the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that he’s pretty much given up on life and Alec Newman brilliantly conveys his abject listlessness and general fatigue. At times irascible, at others morose, his naturally benevolent spirit, numbed by years of failure, unhappiness and self-loathing, only resurfaces when its too late.
Dollar, Archie’s employer, is the real villain of the piece and, perhaps, the most adept at self-deception. Whereas Archie’s early justifications for his job fade away quickly once he witnesses the reality of the situation, Dollar, in his intermittent appearances, continues to assert that he is not a monster, even going so far to claim that he is some kind of saviour. He professes that it’s only out of the goodness of his heart that he’s decided to ‘lift a kid out of poverty, homelessness, begging and prostitution’; so what if he makes ‘a few quid from a few sexy snaps and a bit of a kiss’ on the side. O’Hare plays upon the audience’s natural inclination to hope for the best and, to some extent, we are taken in by Dollar’s spiel. Just like Archie and Beezer, we are complicit in his crimes. We know whatever’s going on is wrong, but we hope it’s not as bad as it could be.
With such a setting and breed of characters, it is hard not to think of Pinter and that is some compliment to O’Hare. However, at times, it does feel as though The Weatherman is an, albeit very well-written, imitation of Pinter’s style and mien. Dollar’s turn of phrase, in particular, at times, seemed a little similar to that of a Goldberg in The Birthday Party or a Lenny in The Homecoming in its attempts to bewilder and intimidate. Where O’Hare, in The Weatherman, may have surpassed Pinter is in establishing the accessibility of his characters without sacrificing the mystique and intrigue of their provenance. For sure, there’s more than enough in The Weatherman to suggest O’Hare has a bright future as a dramatist and as one of a pair of debut full length plays, it whets the appetite for what’s to come.