Diablo is a dark, violent and frighteningly authentic play about the sex trafficking industry in Northern Ireland from Spanner in the Works Theatre Company. They have a reputation for producing solid, hard-hitting dramas and after having seen Diablo I can only say that this reputation is well deserved. It is about a lurking evil to be found in every major city and it does its theme justice.
The story follows two plotlines. One is about Orla (Louise Parker) a young girl from Ukraine who has come to Belfast ostensibly to wait tables. The other occurs in the brothel in which Orla will soon find herself. A young male prostitute Cain (Thomas Finnegan), either through a drug-induced delusion or perhaps because it is true, believes that one of his clients will sweep him away and save him from his life of squalor. The crossover between these two plotlines is deftly handled by the script; the sense of impending tragedy in Orla’s story provides a powerful counterpoint to the optimistic yearning in Cain’s story. What’s more, the writing is versatile and obviously well-researched.
The playwright Patricia Downey has fortunately excised all traces of sentimentality from Diablo. The plight of prostitutes is all too easily romanticised, particularly by productions that do not think that audiences will stand for extreme content. But Diablo has the necessary respect for its audience and pulls no punches. It is shocking because it needs to be.
The acting is also of an extremely high quality. All the actors are comfortable in their roles and with each other, comfortable enough to inhabit the desolate world they are thrust into. No mean feat. Of particular note are the performances of Finnegan and Julie Maxwell who plays Alanna, an ex-prostitute who now runs the brothel. Theirs is the only relationship that could be called recognisably human in the play and the fact that they make this believable in such an inhuman environment is both incredible and absolutely necessary for the play. If this factor were lacking, the bleakness of the play would seem unreasonable and over the top, yet with it the play maintains a human link to reality.
However, the production was not flawless. Noticeably long, slow scene changes meant that all tension that had been built up in the one scene had been lost by the time the next one began. The result was that the actors had an uphill struggle to try and recapture that lost atmosphere. Also problematic were certain plot choices involving Helena (played by Colette Hart) which seemed gratuitous and unbelievable.
All in all however, Diablo is suitably difficult and disturbing and while it might not be the most comfortable play on at the Fringe, it deserves to be seen.