The eye-catching poster for Deirdre Kinahan’s new play features a photo of a dropped teacup at the point of impact, a stream of murky beige liquid flying upwards, shards of china in flight. The image seems intended to echo the play’s central theme: how the effects of one irrational action can change lives forever. While this insight, and Kinahan’s exploration of it, are engaging but not entirely groundbreaking, it’s the precision of David Horan’s production that the photograph evokes most directly: perfs and direction are drawn with breathtaking clarity.
(Bush Theater, London; 80 seats; £20 top)
Kinahan’s play joins a centuries-long list of Irish dramas set in family kitchens, this one in contemporary Dublin. Thirty-something artist Nial (Ronan Leahy) makes a rare visit home with his new wife Ruth (Rebecca O’Mara) in tow, setting his nervously disposed mother Teresa (Deirdre Donnelly) into a tizzy of excitement but provoking clear distress in his sister Niamh (Maeve Fitzgerald).
As we discover, Nial randomly – but consciously – killed Niamh’s best friend when the girls were 12, did time, and is only now getting his life on track. The theme of the adolescent killer’s re-entry into society is familiar from another Irish-led recent project, the telefilm “Boy A” written by Mark O’Rowe and directed by John Crowley (which first brought Andrew Garfield to wide notice in the U.K.). Here, Kinahan focuses on how the tragic event continues to affect the rest of the family.
The first act offers relatively ordinary scenes of family life, which nonetheless compel because the personalities and relationships portrayed are believable and well-observed – and because it increasingly becomes clear that a secret is wending its way out. All the actors inhabit their roles with conviction, but it’s the brilliantly observed trio of Donnelly, Leahy and Fitzgerald that anchor the action. Fitzgerald, in particular, has a rare onstage intensity, but starts out at too high an emotional pitch on what’s supposed to be an ordinary day. Action swings too far into melodrama at times in the second half: The play would have made its points without actually bringing the dead girl (Aela O’Flynn) onstage via flashback, and there are several drag-out verbal confrontations where backstory and subtext are spelled out a bit too neatly.
All the same, this is a tightly wrought piece of stage naturalism which – particularly in this tiny playing space – exploits the unique capacity of live theater to bring auds cheek-by-jowl with deeply felt, embodied experience.