The Dry House

“It’s a difficult watch but we are drawn to these women because the characterisation and writing are excellent”.

Eugene O’Hare’s The Dry House premieres at Marylebone Theatre. Exploring the impact of alcoholism on Chrissy (Mairead McKinley) and her family, O’Hare does not shy away from the hard truth. 

Chrissy’s sister Claire (Kathy Kiera Clarke) arrives before 10am with four cans of beer. She’s promised to go to the Dry House after one last drink… Does she mean it? Claire’s in doubt… this isn’t the first time she’s agreed to get sober. “Can we talk about it when I get to the end of this?” Chrissy says, the shakes subsiding as she sips on the beer. 

Heather (Carla Langley), Chrissy’s daughter, was killed in a car crash a few years ago. A big drinker before this, Heather’s death has given Chrissy an excusable reason to drink. 

The design and direction show that she’s at her lowest. Niall McKeever frames Chrissy’s cluttered and neglected living room in a box. The curtains are closed.  Once she’s moved from the sofa to a chair, Chrissy barely leaves it. We are acutely aware that she’s hemmed in. Her appearance is dishevelled too. Dressed in an old pale dressing gown, with unbrushed hair scraped up in a bun, loose strands fall down onto her blushed sweaty face.  

The casting of the sisters is superb. McKinley and Clarke bring to life the sensitivity of the writer’s treatment of grief and addiction. McKinley plays Chrissy with subtlety, she’s not a shouty drunk. Her sadness and dislike for herself is raw. Sitting on the floor, she holds nothing back telling Claire about an encounter with a man whilst under the influence. The description of how it made her feel something is one example of how McKinley injects pathos into the role. 

As Clarke busies herself tidying up a pile of ironing and picking up cans strewn around the place, her actions indicate her feelings of desperation to get Chrissy on the right path. There is such empathy in Clarke’s performance that we know she is helping Chrissy out of love and not duty. Breaking the fourth wall, we hear that she is grieving too and exhausted, but does not show it, finding relief by drinking in secret. 

Despite the serious subject matter, there’s humour in the script. McKinley and Clarke spark off each so their sisterly dynamic is believable. When Chrissy reminisces about Heather singing Coldplay so beautifully at her 45th birthday party, Claire tells her to calm down, she was no Beyonce. 

Heather appears in flashbacks around the time of her driving test. Langley is likeable as she bounces in having passed on her fifth try. Both sisters talk to Heather from beyond the grave, it’s clear she was the light of their lives and the conversations provide some comfort. 

Heather reveals the truth behind the crash to the audience. Langley does this well but this monologue is a little incongruous with the rest of the play. 

It’s a difficult watch but we are drawn to these women because the characterisation and writing are excellent. Through it all there are sprinkles of hope. I’m still thinking about it now and rooting for Chrissy. 

The Dry House is playing at Marylebone Theatre until  6 May 2023. For tickets The Dry House Select Your Tickets - Marylebone Theatre

Reviewed by Victoria Willetts

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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