Review: The Separation

A debut play about a splitting couple on the cusp of the Irish divorce referendum finds its own divisions

The Separation

Project Arts Centre, Dublin


There's a small but fascinating gesture early in Richard Molloy's debut play, self-produced with the performer Susan Stanley. A middle-aged journalist, Stephen (David Murray), has brought home a younger co-worker, Molly (Stanley), hoping to demonstrate some outdated moves from the lothario's playbook: Here, let me help you out of those wet things. Is that something in your eye? It is almost comically endearing – he is all posture and nerves, she is coy and controlled - but, instead of handing her a towel, he throws it at her.


There is a violence in that moment – tiny but jolting – that signals a play with deeper divisions.

Set in 1995, against the run-up to the Irish divorce referendum, Molloy’s play is about the break-up of a family at a time when the stigma around separation is more than raw. “I’m paralysed by the shame of it,” Stephen tells Molly, an American. “This is Ireland.” There’s a similar paralysis in the play, a personal portrait of such shame, which lingers longest in generic comedy (the couple are discovered, in flagrante, by Carrie Crowley’s ex-wife character, Marion, who arrives spilling caustic putdowns), before punching the pillows of a domestic drama (alcoholism, bitter jealousy, the split allegiance of Roxana NicLiam’s troubled teenager, plenty of shouting).

At times you feel the production, directed by Simon Evans, and the play tugging away from each other, as though they too had irreconcilable differences. Performed on a modest thrust stage, with audience surrounding the action, it is configured for tension: the portentous stabs of Edward Lewis's sound design and ominous silhouettes of Zia Holly's excellent lighting suggest a world closing in on the picture-house outline of Amy Jane Cook's domestic set.

Yet it’s never clear what is at stake. From this distance, without much access to the characters, the aftermath of a breakup seems painful but formulaic. In one withering remark about non-drinkers (“Pioneers!” scoffs Stephen), there is a hint that these damaged people are early explorers of a new bitter coast. Another play might have found drama in that lonely struggle to adapt, and performers with the subtlety of Murray, Crowley and NicLiam would be uniquely well positioned to deliver it. But we are headed towards explosive and demonising recriminations, like a revenge fantasy keen to expose and destroy a villain. It’s a creditable debut, but that feels like throwing in the towel.

Until Jun 14

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture