The New Theatre, Dublin **
The more we redefine families, personally and politically, the more we discover new things that can go wrong with them. If, as Tolstoy wrote, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, this trio of short plays by Andy Hinds, produced by Focus Theatre and the New Theatre, instead depicts quite dissimilar families quite alike in misery.
In each case, though, Hinds treats the source of dysfunction like a mystery story that is gradually unravelled. That technique that can work well, but its effect here is blunted by repetition.
In Anaemia, a seemingly benign estranged husband (Paul Marron) comes home to a seemingly sympathetic wife (Audrey McCoy) to visit his sick child. Why has their marriage broken down, we wonder, as the dialogue rations out clues concerning oppressive religious beliefs and domestic stresses, while she attempts to lure him back with dinner. (Producing a chop from his pocket, though, he has come prepared.) Hinds, who also directs the piece, constructs his character naturally but he is packing a punch: when the issue of domestic abuse arises, it lands with an unexpected wallop, and an acutely sensitive subject comes off as a plot twist.
It also guides expectations for what follows. The second piece, First of the Day, originally written for radio, is set among an unofficial family of homeless people whose father-figure (Joe Purcell’s commanding Chief) and mothering Patti (an amiable Collette Kelly) counsel three dissolute men with various problems, one of whom, Graeme Singleton’s Mumps, has a sudden chance to make something of himself.
Positioned as a tragi-comedy, its plotting is neatly-handled: as they prepare to celebrate Mumps’s fresh resolution towards sobriety with a round of Buckfast, Hinds just swerves to avoid an easy irony. The piece fails to engage emotionally, though, because character motivation is unconvincing – Chief is entirely of the honourable “don’t make the same mistakes I made” model – yet the play slaloms from optimism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.
That queers the pitch for the last piece, Morning, a monologue performed by Hinds and directed by Paul Kennedy. As a husband addresses his absent wife, detailing a marriage that seemed extinguished but was rekindled, and whose differences over parenthood were unexpectedly reconciled, Hinds invests heavily in his character’s psychology but less persuasively in the moral complexity of his wife’s. His performance of pained confusion makes it a one-sided remonstration, against his wife, himself or God.
At this point, though, we expect little resolution other than heartbreak, and while each play prolongs our journey there, they barely entertain an alternative possibility. It’s a shame.
Rather than arouse the futile hope of tragedy’s famous families – that right up to the end they may somehow avoid calamity – these plays warn us simply to brace for impact.