by Ailís Ní Ríain.
Theatre 503 above the Latchmere pub 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 3BW To 2 March 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 5pm.
Runs: 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7978 7040.
Review: Carole Woddis 9 February.
Skilfully combining the realistic and poetic.
Heaven can be in another person’s eyes. Or it can lead to hell. Fairies too can pose as siren voices and it’s hard to know exactly, in Ailís Ní Ríain’s Desolate Heaven, if the Irish fairy story that runs alongside her tale of two runaway schoolgirls is presented as a benign or malign influence.
What is sure is that Ní Ríain, also acclaimed internationally as a composer, brings a powerful sense of restrained lyricism to this painful account that entwines Irish mythology with social issues of abuse, child carers and explosive lesbian emotions.
Theatre 503’s artistic director, Paul Robinson gives this hermetic 90 minute, tearaway’s `road’ adventure a stunningly beautiful production, lit by Lee Curran in shadow and hearth-side glow against a background of wooden battens that suggest both shoreline and beach huts.
Orlaith and Sive, two schoolgirls who are also caring for disabled parents, meet on a school trip to the seaside. Orlaith (a pinched and quietly terrifying Carla Langley making a hugely impressive professional debut) is all tom-boyish bravado, Sive, shy, tentative and trapped at home by a bedridden mother finds the promise of escape suggested by Orlaith irresistible.
And so the two set off, encountering, en route, Brid Brennan’s three unconventional, cartoonish fairy godmothers in the guise of tweed and flatcap Anglo-Irish farmer, Freda, truck driver Laoise and Bridie, a butcher, still, she says not accepted for what she is, as butcher “or anything else…” in the village in which she has lived all her life.
At each juncture, Brennan’s characters offer help and sustenance to the two girls as they grow fatefully closer together, handled by Ní Ríain, Langley and Evelyn Lockley’s heartbreaking Sive with great tenderness.
Unfortunately, or maybe because of, Ni Ríain dealing in mythologies, a certain amount of stereotyping emerges, not least in the handling of Orlaith’s increasing possessiveness and violence towards the confused and gently burgeoning Sive.
Desolate Heaven is nonetheless another devastating portrait of parochial rural Ireland etched with rare delicacy in its indirect commentary on the fate of children over-burdened too young with caring responsibilities and its terrible emotional consequences.
Freda/Laoise/Bridie: Brid Brennan.
Orlaith: Carla Langley.
Sive: Evelyn Lockley.
Director: Paul Robinson.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound/Music: Simon Slater.
Movement: Steve Kirkham.
Associate Director: Lisa Cagnacci.
Assistant designer: Nik Corrall.
Assistant sound: Chris Barlow.
World premiere of Desolate Heaven was at Theatre 503, London on 5 February 2013.
The play received a workshop and staged reading as part of Liverpool Everyman Theatre’s Everyword Festival 2011.