IN NIGERIA, a frightened child puts an old roll of film into the hands of Dublin-bound teacher Sister Martha. In Dublin, Larry, with a wounded backside, has to get out of the city to rob a convent.
While this is taking place, Scarab Oil plans to unleash its new clean fuel of the future. Meanwhile, the film roll Martha is carrying attracts the interest of some very powerful and ambitious people.
Martha and Larry are forced to take a high octane jump into the brutal world of international energy skulduggery and awaken passions they thought were long behind them.
These are the heady ingredients of Donal O’Kelly’s new play, Little Thing, Big Thing, which is coming to the Town Hall Theatre in a production from Fishamble Theatre Company directed by Jim Culleton and performed by O’Kelly himself and Sorcha Fox.
“It’s based on the format of an old-style thriller,” O’Kelly tells me as he discusses the play, currently in the midst of a national tour. “A film roll from 1990s Nigeria surfaces in Ireland in the pocket of a returned nun. She meets an ex-con who was initially trying to rob her convent and they find themselves involved in a cut-throat chase. The play is mainly about Sister Martha and the ex-con Larry O’Donnell, she’s Scottish and he’s from Dublin’s inner-city, then lots of other characters come in and out of the story.
“Sister Martha was to give the film to a Nigerian in Dublin when she discovers he’s to be deported from Ireland so she has to hold on to it. One of the other main characters is this guy Christopher Kayvan who’s the chief executive of Scarab Oil & Gas.”
O’Kelly is one of Ireland’s most socially engaged playwrights. He has been a staunch supporter of the Shell to Sea protest group and his engagement with that issue led to his 2012 play Ailliliú Fionnuala. Here again, amid the thrills, spills, twists, turns and laughs of Little Thing, Big Thing, the villains of the piece are the oil industry.
“Scarab are an oil company active in the Niger Delta and the film reveals something very incriminating about their activities,” he says. “That’s why there is such an alarming hunt on to keep the contents of the film secret. They’re also in the process of opening a new pipeline called the Scarab Atlantic Pipeline at the time the action of the play takes place.”
An immensely skilled writer and performer, O’Kelly can deftly combine the twin purposes of delighting his audience while making serious points about pressing issues.
“Little Thing, Big Thing is about corruption generally in the oil industry, both nationally and internationally,” he states. “There’s a whole culture of corruption that we’re gulled into accepting as normal practice. The play is about exposing the truth rather than covering it up but it provides a laugh as well. I think there is a need for entertainment that also looks truthfully at the absurdity of corruption being taken as a day-to-day normality.”
Little Thing, Big Thing is a stream-of-consciousness thriller in which O’Kelly pulls out all the stops. The Irish Times gave it a four-star review observing that “Jim Culleton’s enjoyable production can effectively do no wrong...a well-crafted, involving piece.”
Little Thing, Big Thing is at the Town Hall on Saturday April 5 at 8pm. Tickets are €16/14 from 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie