A Bruising Insight into Alcoholism: ‘The Dry House’ Review

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Image Credit: Manuel Harlan

★★★★✰

Grieving the death of her teenage daughter, Chrissy sinks into the floorboards, and an ever-worsening relationship with alcohol. It is both her medicine and her poison; she can’t walk a straight line without her morning four cans. A bitter irony saturates her outlooks; she scathingly critiques her neighbours’ ‘restless’ refurbishments, whilst she takes to drink, for it takes her ‘to nowhere’. 

Dark humour aside, Eugene O’Hare’s story of grief and rehabilitation is astonishingly well-written. The Dry House delves deeper than traditional narratives of addiction, bringing the abstract “alcoholism” to earth, to see how individuals appropriate and blame the dependency for their own problems.

As the story unfolds, we learn how Chrissy’s dependence on alcohol began long before her daughter Heather’s death, a hangover from her father’s ‘drinking gene’. Her sister Claire (Kathy Kiera Clarke) suggests she needs her to stop drinking, in order that she might stop using alcohol to cope herself. Her avowed position against alcohol comes from a place of vulnerability; whilst Chrissy is capable of seeing others as complex individuals, Claire reinforces an overly strict binary, between the sober and the alcoholics.  

Kiera Clarke, a star of Derry Girls, is pushed to headline attention for The Dry House. (Indeed, there are nods to nuns here too.) But it is Mairead McKinley (of Translations) as Chrissy who carries the production; her fits of shakes and sweats shocking and difficult to behold. Her visceral description of wishing to ‘explode’ her young body onto her parents’ house – a firework, or something equally beautiful – starkly contrasts to her visions of the mangled mess of her daughter’s car-wrecked corpse. 

We first encounter Heather as the voice in Chrissy’s head, her death repeating itself throughout the production. Another circle; The Dry House starts and ends with Chrissy, the alcoholic, alone. Her character, thus executed, speaks to something more universal, of how we’d never wish for others the pain we often readily inflict upon ourselves.

Niall McKeever’s intimate staging sits somewhere between a TV set, and Edinburgh Festivals’ favourite Crocodile Fever. Robbie Butler’s lighting is similarly subtle, turning a sickly green towards the play’s conclusion. 

And remarkably, The Dry House isn’t hammy when you’d expect – the fourth-wall breaking, and even Coldplay, sit comfortably in the context of the story. Though set in the contemporary borderlands of Ireland, it feels historic, or even timeless. As such, it is these modern references to social media, nudes, and the haunting Heather’s first conversation with her aunt Claire, which prove jarring to hear.

The Dry House is Marylebone’s second self-production, just six months after its debut, Dmitry. A harrowing ninety minutes, it’s a more promising prospect for the new theatre – a production which is both unbelievably sad, and ultimately, about a woman who chooses to live.  

Words by Jelena Sofronijevic


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