Toby Schmitz has a killer script in his hands with Mark O’Rowe’s no holds barred knockout of a play, Howie the Rookie. Returning to his Sydney stomping ground, the Old Fitzroy Hotel, Schmitz directs a blistering 80-minute tale of revenge, redemption and a nasty case of Scabies.
A lick of grey paint and a pile of bottle caps (soon kicked spectacularly across the stage) converts the cellar theatre into the seedy streets of Dublin. The presence of a tracksuit-clad figure at the bar before the show finally makes sense when he leaps onto the stage in his trainers, announcing himself as The Howie Lee.
Hurtling through his monologue at a breakneck pace, The Howie (Andrew Henry) explains that he was recruited by his thug-mate Peaches to knock some sense into local teenager, The Rookie Lee (Sean Hawkins).The Rookie’s offence? Sleeping on a communal mattress and failing to mention his insufferable bout of Scabies.
The Rookie picks up the story where The Howie left off in this fierce double monologue. His predicament looks particularly grim after accidently trampling on the prized Siamese fighting fish owned by a gangland thug.
For a play featuring just two actors, Howie the Rookie brings an entire cast of misfits to life. There’s Skip Susan, a woman who speaks with a perpetual yawn, and Ginger Boy, whose hair is “red enough to stop traffic”. And then there’s Avalanche, a beast of a woman who squeezes into white ski pants and cannot keep her grubby hands off The Howie.
Henry’s performance as The Howie is fervent and wild, like a pot bubbling over on a stovetop, while Hawkins’s portrayal of The Rookie is more of a slow simmer. Their stories of boozy nights, alleyway scuffles and the “dollies” they try to charm the pants off are recounted in a convincing Irish brogue, finessed by dialect coach Gabrielle Rogers.
Under Schmitz’s confident direction, Howie the Rookie defies the “show not tell” adage to great success – the descriptions of action feel even more exciting and immediate than if we saw the events play out live. This is aided by Jeremy Silver’s restrained yet unsettling sound design and apt lighting by Alexander Berlage.
Punters will experience a ferocious night of independent theatre but unlike The Howie and The Rookie, we are offered an exit point – back upstairs to the pub for another drink after the show.
Howie the Rookie plays until October 25 at the Old Fitzroy Theatre: www.sitco.net.au.