Michael John O’Neill
Hampstead Downstairs and Celia Atkin
Hampstead Theatre

Kelly (Ruby Campell), Gill (Amy Molloy) and Sarah (Mairead McKinley) Credit: Helen Murray
Gill (Amy Molloy) and Kelly (Ruby Campell) Credit: Helen Murray
Gill (Amy Molloy) Credit: Helen Murray

Gill is looking very agitated when we first see her. She is alone, impatiently walking about the traverse set, clearly distressed, speaking as if to someone. The intensity of her manner shifts only slightly when her sister Kelly arrives in the small church room.

Kelly (Ruby Campell) aged 18 and Gill (Amy Molloy) close to 30 haven’t seen each other for three years. Gill claims she had a phone call saying “come home” that had her rushing to this town on the coast of Ireland, only to find her sister had moved out of her foster home two years before and joined a Christian group headed by the charismatic figure Richard.

Both sisters are still dealing with childhood trauma that Gill claims is the fault of their drug-addled mother, while Kelly regards it to be a result of their father’s abuse.

Reaching the seafront in time to witness Kelly baptising someone, Gill had rushed the group injuring a “wee granny” with the keys she carried in her hand.

Kelly had brought her to the church and gone to get her some dry clothes. When she returns, they argue till Kelly tries to help her sister with a religious ceremony.

The play lets us glimpse the way traumatised families can disagree about the cause of the trauma, but it does so with a description of events outside the play that we haven’t seen. This can make the dialogue seem unfocused and drawn-out.

There is also the distraction of the unexplored references to Kelly’s membership of what might be a religious cult led by a possibly predatory leader Richard, whom Gill claims she saw touch Kelly’s backside.

The audience may also wonder about some of the improbabilities. How come Gill managed to arrive at the seafront just as Kelly is carrying out her first baptism? Why does Kelly carry a very precious toy “dead sheep” to the church room of a clearly very disturbed Gill who has shown herself to be quite violent? Why also does she make a point of telling Gill she doesn’t want her to touch her phone and then constantly leave it around for Gill to pick up?

The well-performed play has some spirited dialogue and touches on some important issues during its ninety-minute running time, but the events it describes can feel very remote, the undeveloped plot very slight and the characters remain unchanged by what takes place.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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