As his previous plays have shown, Eugene O’Hare is not afraid to tackle issues of our time head-on. For example, The Weatherman and Sydney and the Old Girl, first shown at Park Theatre, followed by Hospital Food, a play written to be performed by young actors and set in a teenage cancer ward.
The Dry House is no exception, dealing with the effects of chronic alcoholism, not only on the drinker, in this case, Chrissy (Mairead McKinley) but on the family, sister Claire (Kathy Kiera Clarke) and daughter Heather (Carla Langley).
In a house in County Down, Chrissy promises Claire that after one final drink (actually four beers spread over the 90 minutes of the play) she will go to the Dry House to get sober, but Claire doubts that she means it: after all she has promised to do this many times. The play explores family, grief, addiction and the immense and redemptive power of hope. In fact, it is so much more: it draws us in until we feel all too painfully what the protagonists are suffering and is quite an exhausting evening at the theatre BUT it is so well written that it works superbly well.
O’Hare himself is an actor, and this shows in the way that he has created totally believable roles for each of the three actors. He has also directed his play with great sensitivity, knowing exactly what he wants to say and its effect on the audience.
As we enter the theatre we are slowly made aware of Chrissy lying on the sofa centre stage. The play begins and she manages to shuffle across to her chair, where she then stays for almost the whole time, totally inebriated, unable to cope without alcohol and various items of self-medication. McKinley’s portrayal is very subtle: this is not ‘acting’, this is ‘being’ and she is totally convincing: we empathise with her, and, judging by the total silence from them, you can also feel the audience willing her to take the plunge and seek help. As I have already said, this is a very involving play!
We feel the desperation of her sister Claire in Kathy Kiera Clarke’s interpretation. The love for her sister shines through in what she says (and does not say) as well as in her actions, promising to take all Chrissy’s clothes to the dry cleaners whilst she is “away” as well as promising to spring clean and even decorate Chrissy’s house – anything to tip the balance and persuade Chrissy to go to the Dry House for eight weeks. Clarke also shows Claire’s desperation – this really is Chrissy’s last chance.
The role of Heather is skilfully woven into the fabric of the play so that we gradually discover the ‘reason’ for Chrissy’s long-term alcohol dependency, at first seeming to be quite simple, but nothing is what it seems in this piece of theatre. Carla Langley is very powerful in this role, especially in the painful monologue she is given later in the play: quite gripping and exhausting to absorb.
The claustrophobic nature of the ‘letter box’ set, complete with ceiling and stairs, greatly aids the audience’s understanding of The Dry House. Niall McKeever has designed a room that the actors find easy to use, including an over large sofa and easy chair and curtained windows to the rear, as if Chrissy cannot bear daylight, which is probably true. Robbie Butler’s lighting is subtly used to aid the creation of mood, always allowing us to see actors’ facial expressions.
This was a wonderful evening in the theatre – you could say that this is what theatre is all about, not just to entertain, but to make the audience feel uncomfortable: there are laughs, but these are usually very black and just emphasise the journey O’Hare’s characters are making. I felt totally drained by the end, as did those around me – BUT it was a very powerful experience and very, very highly recommended!
Review by John Groves
In the Irish border town of Newry, Chrissy promises her sister Claire that after one final drink she will go to The Dry House to get sober. Does she mean it this time?
Follow the sisters as they attempt to overcome the devastating impact of alcoholism on their family in this powerful and timely exploration of grief, family, addiction – and the immense and redemptive power of hope.
Kathy Kiera Clarke
Writer and Director – Eugene O’Hare
Scenographer – Niall McKeever
Lighting Design – Robbie Butler
Sound Design – Esther Kehinde Ajayi
Casting – Ginny Schiller
Publishers – Methuen Drama
The Dry House
By Eugene O’Hare
A World Premiere
Performance: 7 April – 6 May 2023