In a spare café setting, a desperate-looking man, Conor (Karl Shiels) is excoriated by a despondent woman, Susan (Fiona Bell), for killing her daughter. Right from its opening scene, Deirdre Kinahan’s drama sets out its gloomy stall, as it unflinchingly details the events that led to the death of teenager Annie (Catriona Ennis) four years previously. Over three unfolding timelines, the tale emerges of Conor’s unhappy marriage to Jen (Janet Moran), their subsequent squabbling over their young daughter, and the estranged husband’s flight with the girl to a small seaside town. There he meets Annie, a lively but insecure teen pining for the father she never knew; in an atmosphere of near-unbearable inevitability, they form a fateful bond.
Directed by Jim Culleton for Fishamble, the overlapping storylines interweave seamlessly. Using tragedy as a plot anchor is a trickier feat, however, running the risk of gratuitously using grief as a signifier of earnest intent. But while the play's social conscience is obvious - the unspeakable cases of parental homicide that have shocked the country are one of the play's unspoken themes - Kinahan's characters never feel like ciphers, thanks to her empathetic eye for detail. She captures the claustrophobia not only of small town society, but also of family life, and shows how easily parental love can turn smothering, whether benignly or more troublingly so. The performances are very fine too, particularly Shiels's acute portrayal of the deceptively obsessive Conor and Bell's portrait of the despairing Susan.
It’s not entirely successful, with the intensity of Annie’s bond with Conor never fully fleshed out. But overall, the ostensibly grim tale draws the attention and stirs the emotions. By the end, there is even a faint sense of acceptance, if not redemption, though it’s tempered by ambiguity: even after Annie’s death, Conor has more say over her fate than her bereaved mother. It’s a suitably subtle denouement to a play that transcends its bleak premise.
Ends October 12