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Our New Girl: Thriller tools add sharp edge to a filleting of modern marriage

Our New Girl

Gate Theatre, Dublin Until March 21


Tension: Annie (Bláithín Mac Gabhann), Hazel (Catherine Walker) and Daniel (Conor Ò Hanlon). Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Tension: Annie (Bláithín Mac Gabhann), Hazel (Catherine Walker) and Daniel (Conor Ò Hanlon). Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Tension: Annie (Bláithín Mac Gabhann), Hazel (Catherine Walker) and Daniel (Conor Ò Hanlon). Photo by Ros Kavanagh

The mores of contemporary marriage receive a spectacular kicking in Nancy Harris's taut domestic drama. The play is a calculated poke at the idea that women can have it all. Spoiler alert: they can't.

Good-looking Hazel has a sleek designer home and a handsome plastic surgeon husband, Richard. She has given up her high-flying legal career to run an Italian goods importing business from home, all the better to care for her son. Annie, a Sligo-born nanny, arrives into this London household unannounced while Richard is away in Haiti, easing his conscience caring for hurricane victims. Annie has apparently been hired by the absent husband, who never told his wife. Hazel is pregnant with baby number two, and eight-year-old Daniel is acting out.

First produced by London's Bush Theatre in 2012, this revival directed by Annabelle Comyn is a triumph. Harris's play is a hugely intelligent and dramatically sophisticated enquiry into the problems faced by an ambitious woman who decides to make career sacrifices to be a better mother. Daniel is a challenging child, obsessed with medical gore. The play hinges on a terrible scene where he is accused of lying, when all the adults know he is telling the truth.

Designer Alyson Cummins' sleek suburban kitchen provides a clinical setting, with copious knives arranged on the wall.

This surgical space is cluttered up with imported bottles of olive oil. When the tension in the house overflows, so too does the oil.

Catherine Walker as Hazel captures the terrible dilemma of this complex character. Bláithín Mac Gabhann as Annie is initially soft and sweet, but eventually the dark undercurrents of her psyche bubble to the surface, exposing a steel core. Aidan ­McArdle as the husband Richard plays his self-centred role with total persuasion. Daniel, performed on opening night by James Lonergan, creates a terrific uncanny and unsettling presence.

Philip Stewart's sound design effectively raises tension in a Hitchcockian manner. Lighting by Aedín Cosgrove adds immensely to the drama, with contrasting levels and occasional fracturing of light, expertly reflecting these turbulent psyches. Director Comyn uses every moment on stage to build tension, including scene changes, and she employs the thriller toolkit at every turn.

This is a first-rate dissection of contemporary marriage that will hugely appeal to anyone who likes their psychological drama served while they are on the edge of their seat.

Hidden pregnancy in 1980s Ireland

The Afters

Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin

Ger Gallagher's play tells the affecting story of a lonely woman whose life was blighted by the circumstances of her teenage pregnancy. Jane, recently returned from England, is living temporarily with her widowed mother in her home town. She has chaperoned her mother to a local wedding, where an old boyfriend appears out of the blue. Tommy and Jane were lovers as teenagers, and when she became pregnant, he did a flit to America.

The pregnancy occurred in the early 1980s, not the dark ages, but Jane was shipped off to her aunt in Birmingham to hide her TD father's shame. She gave up her son for adoption and this sadness lingers as a deep wound. The full story of the reasons for Tommy's departure emerges in the course of the wedding after-party. Seamus Moran embodies male decency as Tommy, a construction worker made good in the States. Geraldine Plunkett is subtle as the fussy mother. But the heart of the show is the deeply affecting performance by Rachael Dowling as Jane.

Gallagher's neat script prizes the traditional dramatic virtue of emotional truth. Director Caroline FitzGerald steers the poignant catharsis with great command. A moving drama about the sad outcomes of hidden Irish pregnancies, even in relatively recent times.

Indo Review