This bleakly beautiful boozer’s tale packs a powerful punch… PATRICK MARMION reviews The Dry House
The Dry House (Marylebone Theatre, London)
Verdict: Bleak beauty
Eugene O’Hare’s new play, starring Kathy Kiera Clarke (ditzy Aunt Sarah from Derry Girls), is as bleak and beautiful a work as you might care to imagine.
Its subject is extreme alcoholism in a Northern Irish border town, but actually it’s about love, fear and bereavement.
Only written last year, it feels like it’s been around forever and has lyricism to match Brian Friel. But don’t let that kid you into thinking you’re in for an easy ride.
Our heroine Chrissy (Mairead McKinley) is an end-stage boozer, long since barred from the last-chance saloon. We find her entombed in a small, sticky mess of a home.
Behind closed curtains we’re greeted by a soiled sofa, heaps of clothes and a complementary scattering of empty bottles and buckled cans.
Our heroine Chrissy (Mairead McKinley) is an end-stage boozer, long since barred from the last-chance saloon. We find her entombed in a small, sticky mess of a home
O’Hare’s brilliance as a writer is to hold fast to the characters’ rugged brogue. ‘God must’ve been hanging the day he made you,’ curses Chrissy at one point
Into this despair walks her sister Claire (Clarke), hoping to hold Chrissy to her promise of getting to a clinic.
The boozing, of course, masks deep pain. Chrissy has lost her daughter Heather — her chatty ghost is played by a cherubic Carla Langley. While alive, she too had her problems — which are perhaps overblown and intended to stop the play getting sentimental.
O’Hare’s brilliance as a writer is to hold fast to the characters’ rugged brogue. ‘God must’ve been hanging the day he made you,’ curses Chrissy at one point.
But later she recalls a memory of her childhood that ‘dissolves like Solpadeine in a glass of gin’.
Writing like this is itself deliciously hard liquor for an actor. McKinley’s Chrissy relishes every line like a shot of tequila. Clarke’s character has secrets of her own, but she is foremost tough, tenacious and tender in caring for her sister.
Both are bound together in love for Langley’s lost daughter, who illuminates the stage like an angel of mercy.
With a very grim sexual encounter and talk of suicide, it’s enough to make you take the pledge, as they say in Ireland. My pledge, though, is to be sure and see O’Hare’s next one.
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