The truth of contemporary family life is on Deirdre Kinahan's mind. However, the line between rationality and irrationality feels problematised.
Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
The action spills smoothly onto the surface of Deirdre Kinahan's new play, its exteriors aqueous and reflective in Sabine Dargent's set design. The impressionistic scene is indicative of the seashore where single parent Susan (Fiona Bell) saw her daughter Annie (Caitriona Ennis) lose her life. In a fraught encounter with the man responsible, Conor (Karl Shiels), past and present begin to warp and blend; sadly, he is the only individual who can give her closure.
It's been 18 years since the legalisation of divorce in Ireland, and Kinahan is interested in the reality of separation in contemporary family life. Some benefit, such as Conor's driven wife Jen (Janet Moran), who gladly departs from an unhappy marriage in which her husband '"let" her go back to work after having kids. For Annie, a lack of a father figure sends her readily pursuing an older gentleman. The jaded Conor, though, is seemingly imploding from the limited access he has to his daughter, which lends him certain unpredictability.
This is a more ample psychological drama than Kinahan's velvety These Halcyon Days and adaptations of Mary Lavin's prose Happiness. The dialogue is sustainably imagistic in parts, especially lines from Fiona Bell's grieving mother, recalling her daughter by a detailed flick of her ponytail and wishing that "the rocks had made ribbons" of the man that took her away. Shiels' powerhouse performance impressively manages the play's porous structure, which pulls him instantly from one scene and plunges him into the depths of another. Ennis is still revelatory in transforming into a character (10?) years younger than herself, while Moran, whose role feels thin, performs with self-possession. Under Jim Culleton's direction the play moves fluidly, its eventual crescendo powerfully underscored by Denis Clohessy's music.
However, the play does problematise the line between rationality and irrationality. Conor seems self-aware when he parks Jen's ambitions and violently handles her, but when during the separation he shouts "I have rights", it seems that Kinahan is railing against a legal system's bias in favour of mothers over fathers. It would be a completely different play to show the man's atrocious acts - kidnapping his daughter, killing someone else's - as accounted for by his disenfranchised position. The intentions here are evidently rooted in his self-interest and irresponsibility, and we'd be suspicious of any redemption. Therefore, the strange compassion which the play shows him at the conclusion is too great a leap, giving Spinning a twist too many.
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