From rapper to playwright: Naoise Ó Cairealláin's play packs a punch

Sean T Ó Meallaigh in the new play in Irish, Minimal Human Contact
Sean T Ó Meallaigh in the new play in Irish, Minimal Human Contact

In Naoise Ó Cairealláin’s stage play, Minimal Human Contact, the Kneecap rapper delves into a dark previous life when he was a compulsive, addictive gambler.

The first event in this year’s Belfast International Arts festival is a short play, 40 mins in all, packs a lot of punch, metaphorically and literally, with Seán T Ó Meallaigh in brilliant form, even cracking the accent of the Belfast Westie.

Minimal Human Contact is the story of a young man trapped in the trashy glitz of casinos – bargain basement rather than James Bond and Monte Carlo, with smelly old women rather than franchise babes – and shows the adrenaline rush of the win against the slow toll of the numbers that don’t match.

The fear of his Ma finding out he’s lost all his money gambling or being robbed of £20 by someone even more desperate than himself, an event that ends up in blood flowing in Castle Street, outside Primark.

And there’s the rub. The working class looking for redemption amongst the beaten dockets. The double or quits. The one last bet.

And at the same time, on our television screens, the gamblers of the present British government have put all OUR money into a social experiment that will enrich them and impoverish millions of others.

The Financial Times has reported that The Bank of England is to spend £5bn a day for 13 days over the ‘material risk to UK financial stability’ and the threat to pensions yet we look down at people in the arcades chasing dreams through a fruit machine.

Listening to the news over the past few days with all its talk of quantitive easing and bonds and shorting the pound and hedge funds and calming the markets, the language is different in the bookies and the casinos where the need for money might be driving more and more people into the ambit of the one-armed bandit, the roulette table, the race-course to get the money for the electricity or the petrol or the Pot Noodles as the gambling companies rake it in.

Minimal Human Contact, like all worthwhile plays, is about the particular but also about the universal. It's the torment going on in Naoise's head but it's also about the nature of addiction, the need for the sugar highs of a big win, the validation of having a few quid in your pocket and the self-respect it brings.  

Ó Meallaigh physically and verbally recreates the blind panic as the algorithms in the machine make mincemeat out of your scientifically cannot-lose, winner takes all, magic game plan but they are cruel enough to make you think that the next roll of the dice, the next favourite at Aintree or the three bells in the machine will end all your woes.

Will Naoise's play end in catharsis?

Minimal Human Contact runs at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich until Saturday, 1 October.