Plays by Mark O'Rowe

The Approach  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mark O'Rowe's play The Approach is a drama about the inner lives of three Dublin women as they try to make sense of their world. It was first performed at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, on 6 February 2018, produced by Landmark Productions, and was staged at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The play's action comprises a series of two-way conversations between three women, Anna, Cora and Denise. In the first, Anna and Cora catch up after a substantial period of time, sharing news and gossip. They recall a girl they both knew from school, Emily Dowling, who later committed suicide. Anna says she hasn't been in touch with her sister, Denise, whom she blames for taking from her the man she loved, Oliver, who has subsequently died. They reminisce fondly about the time they lived together with Denise in a house in Ranelagh. They part, promising to meet again soon. In the next section, Cora meets up with Denise, and the details of what they share begin subtly to diverge from the previous conversation. Over the course of further meetings, only ever between two of the three women, Anna and Denise decide to put their differences behind them, while confidences exchanged between the women turn out to be less than reliable, new beginnings appear to falter, and darker confessions emerge.

The premiere production was directed by Mark O’Rowe with set and lighting design by Sinead McKenna. It was performed by Cathy Belton (as Cora), Aising O’Sullivan (as Anna) and Derbhle Crotty (as Denise).

The Aspidistra Code

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mark O’Rowe’s The Aspidistra Code, the first play he wrote, is a sinister but comic drama of honour and violence. It was selected by Ireland's National Association of Youth Drama as one of the winners of the Stage IT! Young Playwright’s Project, an initiative founded to encourage playwrights between the ages of eighteen and thirty. The play was first presented as a rehearsed reading at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, on 2 December 1995, directed by Gerard Stembridge

The play is set in an 'average-sized living room' belonging to Brendan and Sonia, who are in debt. They fear the arrival of the Drongo, a violent and unpredictable loan shark. But Brendan’s brother Joe has hired protection in the person of Crazy Horse. As it turns out, Crazy Horse and the Drongo are old mates and the crisis seems to have been averted. That is until the Drongo’s code of honour is called into question, precipitating a bloody showdown.

In his foreword to Mark O'Rowe Plays: One (Nick Hern Books, 2011), O'Rowe describes the play as 'a light, funny piece, probably most easily categorised as a kitchen-sink-crime-comedy-drama'.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

In Mark O'Rowe's play Crestfall, three women recount their lives in a brutally patriarchal and unforgiving town where they are used, abused and manipulated by those around them. It was first performed at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, on 20 May 2003 (previews from 15 May).

The play comprises three monologues, delivered in turn by three female characters. Olive Day sleeps around with any man she can find, though she never charges. Married to the volatile Jungle, she also has a secret lovechild with the local pimp, Inchy Bassey. Alison Ellis is married to the Bru but struggles to connect with him and tires of her lonely existence. Thirdly, drug-addled prostitute Tilly, forced into a botched abortion by Inchy because of his situation with Olive, decides to let the town know the truth about their secret child, leading to a devastating and bloody finale.

The Gate Theatre production was directed by Garry Hynes and designed by Francis O’Connor, with Aisling O’Sullivan as Olive Day, Marie Mullen as Alison Ellis and Eileen Walsh as Tilly McQuarrie.

The play received its UK premiere at Theatre503, London, on 27 November 2007 in a production directed by Róisín McBrinn and designed by Paul Wills. The cast was Pauline Hutton, Niamh Cusack and Orla Fitzgerald.

In his foreword to Mark O'Rowe Plays: One (Nick Hern Books, 2011), O'Rowe explains his original conception of the play: 'Both Howie the Rookie and Made in China were written for exclusively male casts, so I now decided, out of perversity, I suppose, or for the sake of symmetry, or maybe just to nourish the feminine side of my poetic soul, that I would write a play for a cast which was exclusively female, though it would retain the extremity and darkness and vulgarity and violence (I know, I know; all these masculine qualities), of the earlier work.'

O'Rowe revised the play in preparation for its publication in 2011, making changes 'mostly the language, which I found too spare, too humourless, and almost wilfully contradictory in its lack of flow or rhythm.' He also cut one scene – 'a scene of (almost) bestiality' – which, according to the author, had been received with particular 'horror or outrage' by the audience at the Gate, though his decision to cut the scene was based on the need to resolve 'a minor narrative issue that its existence exposed'. 'The result,' he writes in his foreword, 'is a better play (in my opinion, and once again, what value does that have?), though how much better, I can’t really say. A little better, anyway. Maybe. Or not much worse, in any case.'

From Both Hips

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mark O'Rowe's play From Both Hips is a black comedy revenge drama set in the suburbs of Dublin. O'Rowe's first professionally produced play, it was first performed by Fishamble Theatre Company at the Little Theatre, Tallaght, on 25 June 1997, transferring to the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, and the Tron Theatre, Glasgow.

Paul has been accidentally shot in the hip by a policeman. Back from hospital he is overcome with feelings of bitterness and self-pity. Determined to exact revenge upon his shooter, he sets out on a quest to find him. However, when the policeman in question appears with an apology, a gun and an extraordinary proposition, Paul is faced with a difficult choice.

The Fishamble production was directed by Jim Culleton and designed by Blaíthín Sheerin. It was performed by Marion O’Dwyer, Clodagh O’Donoghue, Ger Carey, Fionnuala Murphy, Seán Rocks and Catherine Walsh.

Howie the Rookie

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mark O’Rowe’s breakthrough play Howie the Rookie is a wild urban odyssey through a nightmare Dublin as two youths recount their intertwined stories of one fateful night. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 12 February 1999 (previews from 10 February).

The play is formed of two monologues delivered by characters that share a surname and intertwined destinies. The first monologue is spoken by 'The Howie Lee', a young man who gets dragged into a bizarre feud of honour against 'The Rookie Lee' – a feud that spirals out of control and ends in The Howie Lee's own personal tragedy. The second monologue belongs to The Rookie Lee, who has problems of his own. Massively in debt to terrifying gangland leader The Ladyboy for killing his precious Siamese fighting fish, he steels himself for a hideous revenge. That is until he is championed from an unlikely quarter by his onetime enemy.

In his foreword to Mark O'Rowe Plays: One (Nick Hern Books, 2011), O'Rowe acknowledges the influence on the play of Conor McPherson’s monologue play This Lime Tree Bower (Bush Theatre, 1996) as well as Samuel Beckett’s stream-of-consciousness novel Molloy (first published in English in 1955), which similarly features two interconnected interior monologues.

The Bush Theatre production was directed by Mike Bradwell and designed by Es Devlin, with Aidan Kelly as The Howie Lee and Karl Shiels as The Rookie Lee.

The play won the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1999.

The play was revived in June 2013 by Landmark Productions at Project Arts Centre, directed by Mark O’Rowe, with both characters played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The production transferred to Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, as part of the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, before returning in 2014 to the Olympia Theatre, Dublin; the Barbican, London; and BAM, New York.

Made in China

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mark O'Rowe's Made in China is a blackly comic drama set in an imaginary Dublin underworld full of martial arts, rogue cops and savage low-lifes. It was first performed on the Peacock stage of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on 10 April 2001 (previews from 5 April).

The play has three male characters: Paddy, Hughie and Kilby. Paddy’s weapons of choice are baseball bats and fists. Kilby (who imagines himself as something of an artist) prefers the skill of karate, which he practises on Hughie. Hughie just wants to break the legs of the guy who put the one-legged palmist in hospital. A dreadful accident sets in motion a violent tug-of-war between two criminal footsoldiers over the loyalty of a third. Self-loathing, guilt and loneliness emerge in a frenzied narrative, culminating in a breakneck battle for survival.

In his foreword to Mark O'Rowe Plays: One (Nick Hern Books, 2011), O'Rowe recalls that the play 'was an attempt, I suppose, to transpose the style, or if not the style, then the energy, or if not the energy, then at least the milieu of Howie the Rookie (though it doesn’t really) into the type of play where characters actually talk to each other and not the audience – call it a proper play, or a well-made play, or a play which aspires to being a well-made play – and it culminates in a fight where two of the men take on the third who has the advantage of martial-arts training and the fact that he’s armed with a prosthetic leg, and which really needs to be impeccably and spectacularly choreographed to work.'

The Abbey Theatre production was directed by Gerard Stembridge and designed by Bláithín Sheerin, with Luke Griffin as Paddy, Anthony Brophy as Hughie and Andrew Connolly as Kilby.

Our Few and Evil Days

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mark O'Rowe's Our Few and Evil Days is a play about a married couple whose apparently normal life conceals a dark secret. It was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on 3 October 2014 (previews from 26 September).

The play's action takes place in a 'large living room/kitchen' in a house belonging to a middle-aged couple, Michael and Margaret. They find themselves unexpectedly hosting their daughter Adele’s new boyfriend, Dennis, while Adele herself is attending to a crisis-stricken friend. As Dennis begins to take more than a polite interest in his hosts, secrets are hinted at. In the small hours, Dennis makes a confession to Margaret that crosses social and personal boundaries. As cracks open up in the bland surface of their lives, the play moves into the realm of the psychological thriller, building to a disclosure that changes our understanding of all that has gone before.

The Abbey Theatre premiere was directed by Mark O'Rowe and designed by Paul Wills (set), Paul Keogan (lighting) and Catherine Fay (costumes). It was performed by Ian-Lloyd Anderson as Gary, Sinéad Cusack as Margaret, Ciarán Hinds as Michael, Charlie Murphy as Adele and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Dennis.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

In Mark O'Rowe's play Terminus, three people are ripped from their daily lives and catapulted into a fantastical world of singing serial killers, avenging angels and lovesick demons. The play was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on the Peacock Stage on 9 June 2007.

The play is written for three characters: A (female, forties), B (female, twenties) and C (male, thirties). They speak in intercutting and connected monologues, in a heightened prose style that incorporates rhythmical patterns and internal rhymes. Character A recounts her attempt to save a pupil from a backstreet abortion; B is rescued after falling from a crane by a supernatural force; and C has sold his soul to the devil for a beautiful singing voice. The city of Dublin, which acts as a backdrop to the action, emerges as a dark urban fantasy, simultaneously familiar but crawling with otherworldly creatures.

The Abbey Theatre production was directed by Mark O’Rowe and designed by Jon Bausor, with Olwen Fouéré as A, Catherine Walker as B and Declan Conlon as C.

The production transferred to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in August 2008 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it was awarded a Fringe First.

The Abbey Theatre revived the production on tour in 2009 and again in 2011, when it toured internationally to America and Australia, including performances at the Young Vic, London, in April 2011.

Picture of Mark O'Rowe

© Ros Kavanagh

Mark O’Rowe is an Irish playwright and screenwriter who began writing in 1994.

His plays include The Aspidistra Code (rehearsed reading at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, 1995); From Both Hips (Fishamble Theatre Company/Little Theatre, Tallaght, Project Arts Centre, Dublin and Tron Theatre, 1997 and winner of the Stewart Parker BBC Radio Drama Award); Howie the Rookie (Bush Theatre, 1999 before transferring to Dublin and London; winner of the 1999 George Devine Award and Rooney Prize for Irish Literature); Made in China (Peacock Theatre, 2002); Crestfall (The Gate, Dublin, 2003); Terminus (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 2007) which transferred to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and went on to tour internationally in both 2009 and 2011, and Our Few and Evil Days (Abbey Theatre, 2014). Landmark Productions revived Howie the Rookie in 2013 at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin before transferring to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in a production directed by the author himself. The production went on to perform at the Barbican Theatre in London with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as the lead.

Mark O’Rowe’s film work includes Intermission (Brown Sauce Film Productions/Buena Vista/IPC, 2004); Boy A, adapted from the novel by Jonathan Trigell (Cuba Pictures/Channel 4/Weinstein Company, 2007); Perrier’s Bounty (Number 9 Films/Parallel Films, 2009) and Broken (Cuba Pictures/BBC Films, 2012).