Can a new play about the daughters of a hoarding mother avoid becoming cluttered itself?
Sonya O’Donoghue and Katie McCann
Theatre Upstairs, Dublin
At a certain point in the history of modern living, a new and seemingly unwinnable conflict arose: the war on clutter. The poignant frontline in this new ideal of an unencumbered home involved the death of a parent, where grieving offspring dutifully sorted through the accumulation of a lifetime, asking, “Keep or throw?”
That is the mantra of this new play by Jeda de Brí (who also directs) and Finbarr Doyle, which finds two sisters, Jean and Sarah, systematically discarding their mother’s possessions, which have built up like layers of sedimentary rock. That she was a compulsive hoarder makes their excavation both amusing and unsettling, a dig through memories, trauma and an unwanted inheritance.
Good casting, as Sickle Moon Productions recognises, is important in such family dramas, and the physical similarity between Sonya O’Donoghue’s gentle Sarah and Katie McCann’s snippy Jean allows for a revealing, understated comedy. Sarah artlessly compliments Jean’s hair, for instance, which is a mirror image of her own – even if her accent, strangely, is not. But, surprisingly, other roles receive less attention: in a story of clutter, every prop should have a story.
Aoife Fealy’s design does an admirable job of amassing bric-a-brac, while de Brí manoeuvres the siblings carefully and confrontationally around the debris. But few knick-knacks have character until we find a sweet jar full of baby soothers. Are they Sarah’s? “No,” comes the reply, “she found those ones.” This is a much deeper pathology with a more twisted history.
The play has its own clutter of details: signs of affection, resentment and dysfunction that soon build into vertiginous stacks. Some of these are delicately constructed and subtly performed, such as the prickly undercurrent between McCann’s deserter (the sister who fled) and O’Donoghue’s martyr (the sister who stayed). But, with a bemusing suddenness, the play finally topples into melodrama. “It doesn’t mean I’m mad,” says the character who is clearly mad.
There’s a curious pressure on short plays to reach sensational denouements, as though anything less would be a waste of time, but Slippers is most effective in quieter moments. Then again, maybe it’s inevitable that a play about hoarding should finally become overloaded. Until April 5