In this essential era of agonising testimonies, when women are calling out their abusers, what does it take to speak out? For Sandra, the figure at the centre of Deirdre Kinahan’s startling new play, an assault 25 years ago is still too tumultuous to put into words, even to her husband. “Are you crying” asks Ray, her tears interrupting an intimate moment.
Kinahan’s plot flashes back to earlier in the evening. Sandra (Karen Ardiff), preparing to sell her dead mother’s home, gets a visit from Dairne (Rebecca Root), a distant companion who’s transitioned since they last met. Both catch up, in exposition barely disguised as dialogue. But the pace picks up with the arrival of an estate agent and old friend Linda (Janet Moran) – who seems here for the wine more than anything – and her husband Eddie (Charlie Bonner), who’s so genial and clumsy, it’s a shock to realise that Sandra has become reunited with her attacker.
Strangely, director Jim Culleton’s production for Fishamble and the Abbey Theatre is almost otherworldly in appearance, with Maree Kearns’s gloomy living room set and Kevin Smith’s lighting more appropriate for a horror film. We really don’t need the flash; Kinahan’s drama is already a riveting distillation of accusations and denials since #MeToo.
When Sandra confronts Eddie, the counter-accusations play out in striking ways. Even if he insists she’s got the wrong man, Linda, determined to protect her family’s reputation, still claims the revelation isn’t worth the damage. Ray, at once protective and stunned in Enda Oates’s performance, can’t help but be bewildered. These charges and rebuttals make up a drama about the struggle to be believed, where Sandra even needs to repeatedly state her assault (“Rape. Rape. Rape”) as if it could slip out of existence.
But there is much compassion here. Root’s loyal Dairne, sweetly hoping to return an old favour, rushes to her friend’s defence. The play eventually allows Eddie to crumble, becoming a wretched glimpse of male entitlement in Bonner’s superb performance. If Ardiff’s Sandra is given an overly technical performance, it’s because Kinahan’s plotting is too complicated. After the leap back in time, we realise we’ve been shunted again, this time into an imaginary reality. The confrontation was only fictional, not real.
That gives a bleaker portrayal of assault, where resolution can only be imagined. There is also the bigger picture pieced together here by all of Kinahan’s women, creating a spectrum of femininity where harassment has been experienced in different forms. What’s tragic is that the world isn’t progressing fast enough for any of them.
Rathmines Road is on at Abbey Theatre Dublin until 27th October. More info and tickets here.