Theatre review: Desolate Heaven

Irene Kelleher, Mary McEvoy and Áine Ryan in Desolate Heaven.

Everyman, Cork

“Enjoy your freedom, girls, and all it brings you,” says Laoise, one of three characters, independent women, played by Mary McEvoy in Desolate Heaven. Laoise is addressing two teenage girls who have run away from home, over-burdened by unwell parents. With her masculine gait and mannerisms, Orlaith (Irene Kelleher) is the leader, the butch girl. Sive (Áine Ryan) is the naive one.

The girls in Ailís Ní Riain’s play, which is directed by Tony McCleane-Fay, are on an adventure. Sive is nervous. But such is the strength of Orlaith’s personality, and her promise to take her companion away from drudgery, that Sive becomes more hopeful. She says someone must be looking after them, because of all their luck on the road. As well as Laoise, a lorry driver, the girls meet Freda, who is pernickety about her bales of hay, and Bridie, a butcher. These strong, benign women help the girls on their trip to the coast. Each of them relates a segment of a fairy tale that has shades of Rumpelstiltskin.

The fairytale concludes with the traditional, happy ending, but Orlaith, despite her initial zest for a new life, warns Sive that “there is no such thing as happy endings.” Her comment is prescient, given the tragic denouement. A power game plays itself out, instigated by Orlaith’s infatuation with Sive.

The play is a curious mix of naturalism and magical realism. The three women, with their masculine jobs, appear to have seen it all. Laoise’s comment about freedom is telling.

The girls may be escaping their lonely, humdrum lives, but there is a sense that they’re living in cloud cuckoo land.

The performances of the three actors are convincing. While the presence of the older women could be said to be unnecessary, they are role models in a fairy godmother guise.


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