IT'S A truth not always acknowledged that even the most lavish theatrical sets are no match for the real thing. So with that in mind, full marks to the talents behind Trade for eschewing bald studio spaces for the starkly real surrounds of an inner-city B&B.
If you're lucky enough to secure a ticket for what will undoubtedly be the hit of the Dublin Theatre Festival, instead of a venue you'll be directed towards a meeting point. From there, the audience is marched up the road and into the sparsely furnished bedroom of a B&B, where the action takes place. It's a brilliant piece of staging, ensuring that the audience is immediately engaged. It's also the most uncomfortable 50 minutes you'll ever spend at a play, and it's got nothing to do with the chairs.
Sitting on a bed is a tracksuit-clad rent boy (Ciaran McCabe) his slight, wiry frame suggesting that he's in his late teens. Visible through a partially open door to the bathroom is the older man (Philip Judge), taking an inordinately long time to brush his teeth. He eventually emerges, small patches of blood staining his clothes.
Immediately, we're assailed by a sense of the despair of the underworld of male prostitution -- the shabby room, cheap furnishings, the single bed. Then there's the palpable sense of unease between customer and service provider.
This isn't their first transaction, nor is it progressing smoothly. The older man's need is more emotional than physical. Yet, despite his outpouring of anguish, the rent boy remains detached. "This isn't real," he insists, "it's money".
Gradually, the full extent of the older man's trauma is laid bare, thanks to a stunning performance from Judge. His younger counterpart is equally captivating, with McCabe striking the right note between sullen, vulnerable and sympathetic.
The script is utterly Dublin, minimalist, witty at times, and ultra sharp. Penned by Mark O'Halloran, the man who brought us the excellent Garage, the talented pedigree is obvious. Trade what you must to ensure you nab a ticket. HHHHH