When Rachel Met Fiona
Emma Dargan-Reid (Rachel) and Eilish McLaughlin (Fiona) in When Rachel Met Fiona. Image Al Craig
While the gay community canvassed vigorously during the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum, the question on many straight peoples lips was why did they want to get married? Had they not seen their straight friends? They’d only recently finished campaigning for divorce. Attempting something of an answer, Colette Cullen’s darling rom com, When Rachel Met Fiona, sees love and life collide as a lesbian couple journey from lusting lovers through exhausted marriage in search of a workable happy ever after. Reminding us that marriage, with all its ups and downs, is always marriage, whatever our sexuality.
As with the title, allusions to New York rom coms are never far from sight. Each scene linked by a jazz piano score tinkling playfully, or moodily, like Broadway lights. Lisa Krugel’s cartoon coloured set, with its painted door, picture frames, and flower strewn wallpaper, superbly designed for rom com heaven. Within whose cozy confines Rachel and Fiona fall in love, move in, plan a honeymoon (to New York), debate potential surrogate fathers, and risk falling out of love as they negotiate the new normal of married life.
Eilish McLaughlin (Fiona) and Emma Dargan-Reid (Rachel) in When Rachel Met Fiona. Image Al Craig
Lightweight and full of charm, if Cullen’s script explores real challenges, it avoids the mud and mire of strained relationships. Offering up a candy cotton world were every problem can be talked better. Which doesn’t detract so much as add to the play's overall sweetness. No bad thing seeing as When Rachel Met Fiona is more dessert than main course. A short, two hander that’s substantially filling and wickedly delicious. Made all the more tasty by Cullen using the simplest of ingredients. No big fireworks, no huge stakes; exposition cleverly drives the minimal fuss dialogue. Even though the simplicity backfires sometimes as you’re left trying to piece together a who, what, where or when as information is held back till later, or omitted. An approach that needs a strong cast and confident director to reveal the secrets contained in Cullen’s supple script.
If the devil is in the details, the details lie in two angelic performances by Eilish McLaughlin and Emma Dargan-Reid, elevating When Rachel Met Fiona to a whole other level. McLaughlin, resembling Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek at times, confirms her reputation as an exciting new talent; her detailed Fiona shifting from ditzy young woman to mature mother and wife. McLaughlin's meticulous attention to detail so scarily brilliant you can practically see Fiona's thoughts churning. Dargan-Reid, the adult-like Rachel, also wonderful as she starts prioritising what’s urgent over what’s important, blinded by her own needs. Both performers, awash with chemistry, exquisitely guided by Iseult Golden’s flawless direction. Pace, composition, energy; Golden does it all beautifully while performing a disappearing act; magnifying her presence by minimising it and letting her actors breathe.
Dramatically, When Rachel Met Fiona might sound dull fare, following an ordinary lesbian couple through the ups and downs of the ordinary days of their life. Yet the result is an extraordinarily affecting production. That it shows the hallmarks of a Netflix serial might be a blessing for some, an issue for others. Especially those who argue that Netflix has resulted in every writer writing the same story in the same way just to get optioned. Even if that were the case, When Rachel Met Fiona is from the quality end of that spectrum, with Golden ensuring it remains a theatrical delight. Touching, tender, gorgeously lighthearted, with just the right amount of weight, When Rachel Met Fiona is sweet but never saccharine. Golden’s first class direction and two riveting performances from McLaughlin and Dargan-Reid ensuring a terrifically enjoyable experience. If they'd any sense, Netflix should pick up the option. Along with signing its director and cast.
When Rachel Met Fiona by Colette Cullen, presented by The New Theatre, runs at The New Theatre until April 1.
For more information, visit The New Theatre