There's a "tout" in the family. It's 1986, and tucked away on a small farm in Armagh, Joe and his two sons, Thomas and Danny - an IRA clan under near-constant surveillance by British forces - are beginning to feel the pressure. JJ, an IRA interrogator from Belfast, is called in to investigate a botched operation (a bombing) that was planned in this family's kitchen. Someone's been talking, and it's up to JJ to uncover the informer, and all eyes are on Barney, the elderly helper who assists Joe around the farm. Tough break for Barney.
Writer Stuart Carolan's first play - originally staged in 2004, long before the bloke found success with Love/Hate - is, at its core, a troubled and frequently disturbing familial drama. There are no women in this piece. Thomas' mother is in a psychiatric home (the "nuthouse", as Joe calls it). We suspect the death of her son, Seamus, pushed her over the edge. If things weren't already bad enough, the circumstances surrounding Seamus' drowning are not quite clear. Might Joe know more than he's letting on? Perhaps. Either way, it'll take a while to figure out the truth.
Over-written and occasionally clunky, Defender of the Faith is clearly the work of a writer who hadn't yet found his feet.
Were Carolan to go back and revise the script, he'd no doubt scrap some of the more meandering, profanity-filled exchanges and lingering, histrionic yarns on loyalty, friendship and deception.
Indeed, there's an awful lot of talking, and very little action. But the message is clear: the only thing worse than a tout is a tout hunt, and touts are always captured and killed. Always. Two men will come out of this piece with black bags over their heads… but which two?
Peter Gowen is excellent as Joe, the big, burly man-of-the-house who snaps at his children but cowers under the watchful eye of the skinny yet oddly terrifying JJ (boy, does Diarmuid De Faoite have fun with that role).
Michael Ford-Fitzgerald, too, turns in a decent performance as Thomas, even if some of his character's actions in the final third don't quite add up.
Meanwhile, Lalor Roddy's Barney has his finest moment off stage (you can guess how that one works).
Director Andrew Flynn's attempts to turn this intimate theatrical set-up into something a little more cinematic is to be applauded, but the last ten minutes let everyone down, when every ounce of realism and suspense is sacrificed in sake of a bizarre, over-egged twist.
Ends tonight HHHII