Marylebone Theatre, London – until 6 May 2023
“When you try your best but you don’t succeed, when you get what you want but not what you need…” Grief-stricken alcoholic Chrissy can’t help but replay the same memories over and over in her head; as she re-lives her final conversation with her daughter (Heather), she persists in talking to her sister (Claire) about the happiness she felt when Heather sang her favourite Coldplay song for her at a party. Even though Claire is struggling too, she can’t admit to it and instead fixates on trying to get her sister into recovery. Eugene O’Hare’s new play, The Dry House, is an emotional tussle between two people who love each other very much, but are still weighed down by the past.
Coming in at around 90 minutes without an interval, the play begins in humble & everyday surroundings, before Claire’s arrival shakes Chrissy out of her stupor and the tension begins to rise. Though it is structured as mostly a series of two-hander conversations, each character is given the chance to let the audience in on their thoughts by way of a monologue – they creep up on you, with Robbie Butler’s lighting design subtly honing in on the character and ensuring our focus is entirely on them.
It’s in Heather’s monologue that we learn the full story behind her death; though it is clearly meant to be a bit of a twist, there does need to be a little trail of breadcrumbs that you can look back on and realise their importance – only one thing (pretty early on) really sticks out, so that part of the narrative just feels a bit undercooked. It seems as if O’Hare wants to make a big point about social media, but it’s currently a little clichéd.
The ending could potentially be quite cheesy, however superlative performances from the cast of three manage to sell it, and it becomes a very poignant (and tentatively hopeful) moment. It also highlights the depth of Chrissy’s alcoholism and how long it has cast a shadow over her life, as Heather was clearly aware there was something wrong before she died.
Niall McKeever’s set design should be commended, as its cramped & cluttered untidiness sets the atmosphere as soon as you enter the auditorium – plus it is more dynamic than it might first appear, with two different entrances/exits enabling the actors to appear from (or disappear into) different directions. It’s a realistic depiction of squalor, but with the capacity for something a bit more fantastical & theatrical when the moment arises.
Each character is heartbreaking in their own way. Claire may have the appearance of a slightly snobbish middle class housewife, but you can see in Kathy Kiera Clarke’s face that there’s more than meets the eye. Heather, too, is hiding her own secret, but for the most part Carla Langley injects her with a zest for life that she projected to her loved ones while she was still alive – until we learn the truth, that is. By the end of the play, Mairead McKinley has brought a quiet dignity to Chrissy, after her shaky start and bouts of grief & fury; it’s a truly affecting performance, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Chrissy’s plight.
This is an excellent piece of drama that attempts to tackle some of the more pervasive issues of the day – in a theatrical, but sobering, way.
My verdict? A trio of heartbreaking performances make for some poignant moments in this excellent new drama.
The Dry House runs at Marylebone Theatre until 6 May 2023. Tickets are available online or from the box office.