Dublin Theatre Festival 2018: Rathmines Road
Truth Be Told
They say never let truth get in the way of a good story. In Deirdre Kinahan’s latest play “Rathmines Road,” it's not quite so simple. For truth is a story that has never been told. If its narrative and characters play second fiddle to the positions they speak from, its because Kinahan’s rollercoaster script has an awful lot of important and necessary thing to say. Thought provoking and uncompromising, “Rathmines Road” is a scream against the silence surrounding sexual assault, saying this far and no further, and it is deafening.
Script wise, truth often gets in the way of Kinahan’s story, whose thin narrative serves as a vehicle for a searing interrogation of cultural responses to allegations of historical sexual assault. The kind where there’s no evidence, no witnesses, no reports made, and no-one who was told. All that remains is the trauma, lived with everyday in the deepest recesses of the mind and body of the victim. How we fail to negotiate this, and our need to begin to address it, lies at the heart of Kinahan’s brave and challenging new work.
In “Rathmines Road,” an unexpected encounter sees Sandra shift from a position of shame and silence to one of naming and shaming. Back in the family home to oversee its sale with her husband Ray, Sandra finds the past and the present colliding. A theme wonderfully evoked by Maree Kearns rust coloured set, where the past still encloses itself suffocatingly about a traumatised Sandra. Over the course of a single evening Sandra becomes reacquainted with Darnie, a trans woman formerly known as David and formerly Sandra’s best friend. The arrival of another old friend, Linda, along with her husband Eddie, triggers a visceral response in Sandra that courses through her body and mind. Only this time the trauma is refusing to stay silent, with accusations being levelled and challenged, as are the consequences of making them.
Following a clever, understated opening, given greater weighted significance at the end, Kinahan’s script tapers off into some heavy-handed exposition for a time. Back stories are unsubtly established, as if making all the necessary preparations before setting out on a journey. Once everything is in place and the journey commences, “Rathmines Road” becomes a much more interesting proposition. A superb Karen Ardiff as the traumatised Sandra, her mind and body aflutter as she tries to hold it together, unsure whether to let her secret out or keep it buried within, enters a gravitational black hole around which all others revolve. Whatever the accused Eddie's position, a sterling Charlie Bonner, his wife Linda is innocent even though she and her children will suffer if Sandra’s allegation is made and believed. Indeed, a magnificent Janet Moran as Linda becomes yet another tragic victim at the core of this powerful piece. At one point Moran beautifully articulates the normalised, daily abuses women suffer in a searing attack on Rebecca Root’s superb Darnie, who may have transitioned to being a woman but is condemned for having no idea of what it means to grow up as a young girl, with Linda accusing her of donning her gender identity like a fashion choice. Root, if looking slightly nervous at times, does a fantastic job adding dimension and depth to the conversation, even if she has the thankless task of holding the judgemental moral high ground while being the only character for whom there is nothing at stake whatever the outcome. Enda Oates as husband Ray, may seem like a deer caught in the headlights, but Oates kicks it to touch at all the right moments, never more so than during his conflicted response to Sandra upon realising what happened. For it’s not the event itself that bothers him, but that the woman he trusted and thought he knew all his life kept such a secret from him. With all this pressing in on her, what will Sandra decide?
Kinahan’s script delivers a rollercoaster ride with a few uneasy bumps along the way as characters express prolonged points of view which often dominate over action. The manner in which Eddie is positioned to confess, and is then spoon fed his confession, strikes an uneasy chord even if ultimately the truth comes out. Indeed, the price of confessing, and of not confessing, are superbly juxtaposed, with the victim always made accountable if the truth be told. With so many opposing ideas and energies whirling about onstage it risks descending into chaos. But Jim Culleton’s masterful direction sees those energies harnessed and channeled, with some excellent compositional arrangements that compound the silence with distance, delivering a searing production that bravely offers no easy or comfortable resolution.
“Rathmines Road” is a hot mess that goes nowhere, and that’s exactly how it needs to be. For Kinahan’s sharp script lays bare the whole mess, bravely avoiding easy answers, despite those who would like it to do so. With its discomfiting tale begging for resolution, “Rathmines Road” wonderfully captures the spirit of the zeitgeist. A moment in time when women have made a firm shift from silence to speaking out about sexual assault. The way forward may not be easy, but “Rathmines Road” makes clear that going back is not an option. Brave and unapologetically challenging, “Rathmines Road” asks important questions of us all.
“Rathmines Road” by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Jim Culleton, presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company, runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2018 until October 13, continuing its run till October 27.