To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the Red Stitch theatre company this week resurrects a hit from its 2002 debut season, Howie the Rookie.

Playwright Mark O’Rowe’s modern Irish classic was nominated for a slew of awards when it was first staged, including the Green Room Award for Best Production. This new Greg Carroll-directed production features Red Stitch ensemble member Timothy Ross as the Rookie Lee alongside guest actor Paul Ashcroft as Howie Lee.

The two play feuding Irish rogues in a two-hander with a difference.

“It’s pretty much two one-man shows. Paul is on first for 45 minutes, then after interval I come on for the last 45,” Ross explained.

“It’s set in the streets of Dublin, and they’re both pretty rough young guys. Howie’s much more of a gruff guy who’ll never back down from a fight. My character, the Rookie, is more of a ladies man and doesn’t want anything to do with a fight — when he finds himself in that situation, he quite literally shits himself,” he laughed.

“They’ve always been mates, these two, until Howie and his mates find out that they’ve got scabies. They’re pretty sure they got it off the Rookie, so they set out to beat him up.”

While Ross has had experience mastering the Irish accent required for his role, he said O’Rowe’s dialogue, which has seen the playwright compared to talents as diverse as Shakespeare and Tarantino, presented new challenges.

“It’s very slang Irish talk, and there are words in there I’d never heard before. It’s been a bit of a challenge.

“But even more of a challenge is the directness with which it’s addressed to the audience — we’re really standing there eyeballing the crowd as we talk. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

But Ross’s bio states that before moving to Melbourne to enrol in the drama course at the Victorian College of the Arts, he performed stand-up comedy in his hometown of Adelaide. Surely this experience would hold him in good stead when performing a monologue?

“The funny thing is, I never really got nervous doing stand-up — from the first time I grabbed the microphone I felt this sense of ease come over me. But I have a nervous feeling about this, because it’s so confronting to be standing there, just eyeballing the audience for 45 minutes.”

Howie the Rookie has been almost universally acclaimed by critics for its edgy, sometimes crude humour — The Herald Sun went as far as to call it “pants-wettingly funny”.

“The language is so rich — so poetic and musical,” Ross said. “I don’t think there are many people who can write 45-minute monologues and really engage the audience for the whole time.”

info: Howie the Rookie plays at the Red Stitch Actors Theatre from March 16 – April 16. Visit www.redstitch.net

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