The Marylebone Theatre, a recently opened venue, shows its commitment to new work with its production of Eugene O’Hare’s new play The Dry House, running there for just over a month. The Dry House opens with the image of Chrissie, played by Mairead McKinley, waking up with the shakes, plunging us straight into the world of grief-fuelled alcoholism. It’s a play which doesn’t shy away from its point; the ninety-minute runtime, with no interval, is almost exclusively devoted to discussion of the effects that alcohol wreaks on families.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Claire, Chrissie’s sister, has come to fetch her sister to take her to the dry house, a rehab institution for alcoholics, but both are frequenty visited by the ghost of Chrissie’s daughter, Heather, as they relive her final hours and ask themselves how they could have changed the outcome. It’s a powerful look into the truth of many families’ lives. From the opening preset of Niall McKeever’s set design, it is clear that we are in an Irish home in the great tradition of Irish social realism, and the dialogue bears this out; bleak yet suffused with black humour, small towns, family tensions, and unexpressed love. All of this is portrayed with real humanity by the cast of three, all of whom give moving performances.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Where the play lost its believability for me was the eagerness with which its characters approached its core issues throughout – no pussyfooting dialogue, no euphemism, and perhaps most crucially, no shame. As my name no doubt gives away, I am Irish, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s the shame which suffocates so many personal problems and stops so many from getting help. The will of Chrissie and Claire to wade in to their problems from lights up, at the play’s weakest points, speaks to a desire to educate about alcoholism rather than tell a story, which detracts from the power of the central relationship. Claire’s personal revelation halfway through the play is made through a monologue to Heather’s ghost, which feels like a plot device and much less powerful than her later confession to Chrissie, which would have held up alone. Similarly, the monologues that dominate the last twenty minutes would feel more powerful as confessions if they had a sense of release, rather than continuing the play’s habit of announcing its issues. 

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Still, there’s no doubt that these issues do need addressing, nor that at the strongest back and forth of Chrissie and Claire’s dialogue the play is both heartfelt and funny, even as these characters drag us through the depths with them. Perhaps what it needs is simply to trust its own material more – the audience doesn’t need everything explained, and often it is more rewarding when it isn’t.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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