Review by Daz Gale
The newly opened Marylebone Theatre is ready to launch its second self-produced piece of theatre. If opening a brand new theatre post-pandemic was bold in its approach, the choice of content for this play is equally bold as The Dry House is a no-holds-barred unflinching approach to grief and addiction. Attempting a play with such a serious tone is an uncertain task with the hope the audience will resonate with the themes and feel something. In that respect, was this a resounding success or was the content of the play… well, dry?
Written by Eugene O’Hare, The Dry House sees Chrissy (Mairead McKinley) turn to drink following the untimely death of her sister Heather (Carla Langley). When Chrissys sister Claire (Kathy Kiera Clarke) turns up to take her sister to a “dry house”, the fractured nature of their relationship plays out as we are left to wonder whether Chrissy can overcome her demons and if redemption is possible.
Eugene O’Hare’s writing is exquisite throughout. Littered with witty moments, the dark content of the play and its serious themes are played out with a gritty realism through naturalistic dialogue and clever turns of phrase. Each of the three family members are multi-faceted and gradually unravel to reveal dark secrets of their own in a play which constantly challenges perceptions with a shocking but always sensational writing style. Raw, unflinching and, quite often, brutal in its approach.
Eugene also directs the piece, allowing the vision of his writing to be completely brought to life. Through the boxed in stage of Marylebone Theatre, we are greeted to a cut open design of Chrissys rundown dilapidated house. The attention of detail in Niall McKeevers set design gives plenty of scope to play with, as Claire tries in vain to make the place presentable. The way the cast interact with each other shows true skill when it comes to the direction of this piece – this level of care continues in one unexpected and distinctly different moment where a character breaks the fourth wall and even encourages a bit of audience participation… though not the jolly kind you might get at panto. In other hands, this might prove jarring and not in-keeping with the tone present throughout the rest of the play. The fact this segues in seamlessly before going back to the action is a testament to the writing, direction and performance in itself.
The three cast members in The Dry House each give stunning performances. The bar is set high early on and continues to be met throughout with each of the three getting solo moments bordering on monologues to convey the intricate development of their characters. Playing a ghost without making the situation feel silly or absurd isn’t always achievable, but Carla Langley truly gets it right with her choices as Heather, giving a nuanced and emotional performance as the tragic figure.
Kathy Kiera Clarke gives a predominantly understated performance as Claire, as she tries to keep everything together for her crumbling sister. It’s the moment she finds herself on stage alone where the deep-rooted pain and demons come to the surface, and as such the versatility of Kathys talent as an actor is discovered in a truly breath-taking performance.
The cast member with by far the most to do is Mairead McKinley who gives a remarkable turn as Chrissy. Having to embody this complicated figure, dealing with the repercussions of the tragic events that have all but destroyed her family. The complicated nature of her performance sees Chrissy relive moments from her past, with one particular low point deeply uncomfortable to recite. As well as encompassing this character beautifully, we also see moments of the old Chrissy, before her life fell apart. The way Mairead navigates these complexities is miraculous, leading to a truly phenomenal performance.
If Eugene O’Hare’s writing and direction is exemplary, the way the three cast members interpret them and make his words leap off the stage with such realism really is powerful. Though the topics at hand can make for uncomfortable viewing, the way these are performed with a brutal and gritty authenticity is admirable and leads to a performance that completely resonates with the audience, leading to an emotive viewing. Flawlessly treading the balance with such triggering themes, The Dry House is an absolute triumph. Shows as stunning as this make me thankful there are still opportunities for new theatre spaces to pop up, not just in London but all over the UK.
The Dry House plays at Marylebone Theatre until 6th May. Tickets from marylebonetheatre.com
Photos by Manuel Harlan