Saturday, June 30, 2018

We Like It Here – rural isolation and psychosis in a new a dark play (Lyric Theatre until 30 June)

Even waiting until the next morning to begin to write this review, Jonathan M. Daley’s new play We Like It Here is proving to be a head melt of a production.

The living room of a small house has come to represent the whole rural village of Ballyarby. Three unnamed sisters occupy the space where their father has ruled in an authoritarian and abusive manner. The household is somewhere on the spectrum between a disturbing cult and a witches’ coven.

Tracey Lindsay’s crafty set uses a horizontal stockade with missing slats as the back wall, while earthy trenches make up the other boundary walls in the triangular room. The three sisters reach into the soil and pick out articles of clothing. Putting their father’s belt around their waist, any of the sisters can be transformed into their father, all too soon demonstrating how that same belt was used to beat and bruise his children.

Playing the eldest sister, Mary O’Loan is aloof, staying above the fractious goings-on all the while orchestrating most of them. Maeve Smyth plays the besotted and spurned middle sister, with the fieriest temper on stage. As the youngest sibling, Adele Gribbon has most energy and bounce, and is also the most disturbed of the threesome. She is most at peace with the strange living arrangement and questions little about their odd situation and practices.

Into this isolated rural nightmare walks Cailum Carragher, playing Thomas, the village Garda officer who is investigating the disappearance of the sisters’ father. The small town feel is amplified by his estranged relationship with the middle sister (played by Maeve Smyth) who is aggrieved that Thomas deserted her for the sexual charms of another girl in the village. He too is soon accessorised and morphs into acting out other characters’ lives, giving him the chance to demonstrate a range of emotions and expressions.

Ultimately the storyline leaves too many questions unanswered about whether we are witnessing one sister’s psychosis, or whether fiction and reality have somehow fused and something in the Ballyarby tapwater has disturbed a whole community. Director Emily Foran injects a dark and sinister life into this difficult script, while choreographer Emily McDonagh creates a memorable nightclub scene that the cast play to perfection.

Snippets from an episode of Friends feel far more real life than the unfolding psychological drama in the front room. Ripples of audience laughter accompany some of the most uncomfortable scenes, yet the disturbing pretext is always far from funny.

Just over an hour long, We Like It Here by the Headrush creative collective (who produced Sink or Swim back in March) plays in the Lyric Theatre until 30 June.

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