The first is her unexpected ability to out-New York New Yorkers: she drank with the best of them, she quipped with the best of them, her sardonic columns were a perfect fit for the New Yorker. The second compelling part of her story is how, having won such independence of mind and circumstance, mental illness robbed her of both, and she descended into a bewildered, unkempt figure, ending up homeless, dying penniless and forgotten.
Emma Donoghue ostensibly sticks to Brennan’s first decade or so in New York. We meet Brennan (an uncanny Catherine Walker) fully formed: exchanging barbs over martinis with her colleagues at the Algonquin. Her early years are represented upstage by composite scenes from her fiction. The trouble is that these scenes invite the audience to conclude Brennan’s past was a kitchen-sink cliche of Irish realism. The truth is more interesting.
Donoghue stakes the play’s dramatic punch on the insidious troubles of Brennan’s first years in New York. Catherine Walker curls her lip, lets her hair get out of place and takes on a twitchy edginess in a foreshadowing of what is to come. But this feels like an opportunity missed. It is wonderful to see Brennan recognised with this production. The trouble is that it is not much of an introduction.
* Running till Oct 20.