BMW Review: Searching for Identity in HELEN AND I

Debut playwright Meadhbh McHugh tackles traditional themes of home, identity, and duty in Druid's world premiere of Helen and I.

Helen and her younger sister Lynn return to their childhood home to care for their dying father in his final days.

Strains in the relationship between the domineering, seemingly invulnerable Helen and the girlish, volatile Lynn quickly fester as seething sibling resentments are unspooled and ventilated.

The charged atmosphere is only exacerbated by the arrival of Lynn's husband, Tony, the subject of Helen's considerable scorn, and Evvy, Helen's 15-year-old daughter, who has never met her father.

Set during an intensely hot summer and infused with a droll humor (Lynn wonders if "this heat must be a warning of the fires of hell" awaiting her father), McHugh's script sharply counterpoints the naivety of adolescence ("I know the world," Evvy insists, "I have a phone") with the disillusion of mid-life ("This isn't the person I wanted to be," Helen confesses).

The claustrophobia of the situation is realised through a sunken kitchen set design and amplified by the imaginative decision to present the production in the round.

Annabelle Comyn's taut pacing exploits the tension in episodes like the sexual overtures between Helen and Paul while also reigning in the script when it veers towards melodrama. Throughout, the director franks the production with visual cues - such as the harshness of Helen's physical movements - that sensitively color in McHugh's script.

Seána O'Hanlon is fittingly capricious as Evvy and Paul Hickey's complex portrayal of Tony snapshots the nuances of his character, but it's the knotted relationship between Helen and Lynn that gives this production its pulse.

Cathy Belton invigoratingly plots the pendulum swing from Helen's swagger to her brokenness, capturing how a catalogue of wounds sculpted her into the woman she is today.

Most impressive, however, is Rebecca O'Mara's performance as Lynn. Festooned with heavy make-up and high heels (even when gardening), O'Mara presents Lynn as a jigsaw of regret and insecurity, and employs an exaggerated enunciation that subtly hints at her character's underlying psychological distress.

Although McHugh's writing occasionally lurches towards the heavy-handed, in Helen and I she chisels credible characters, convincing dialogue, and compelling drama into a hugely-promising debut.

Photo credit: Ros Kavanagh

Helen and I plays at The Mick Lally Theatre, Galway, Ireland until September 18. The production then plays at the Civic Theatre, Dublin from September 27 until October 1 as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. See druid.ie.



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From This Author Brendan Daly