Review: Desolate Heaven, Theatre503

“Girls can do anythin’ so…”

If you see two more accomplished or affecting debut performances this year than those of Carla Langley and Evelyn Lockley at the Theatre503, then you will be very lucky indeed. Along with the more seasoned Bríd Brennan, they star in Desolate Heaven, a new play from Irish composer and playwright Ailís Ní Ríain and a piece of new writing that dances variously between grimly realistic road-trip, lesbian coming-of-age story and cautionary fairytale.

Langley’s Orlaith and Lockley’s Sive are both teenage girls and bound together by their similar responsibilities in acting as a carer for one parent in the absence of the other. Orlaith has developed a brittle exterior of forthright bluster in the face of her father’s mental illness but in dealing with her paralysed mother, Sive has become altogether more introverted. But despite the innate difference in their characters, they bond over the idea of fleeing the oppressive reality of their lives and seize the first chance that comes their way, unprepared for the consequences they’re ultimately forced to face.

Ní Ríain’s writing has a densely poetic quality which suits the mood of the piece – James Perkins’ pitch-perfect set helping too – as it wends its surrealist way through the trials and tribulations of the girls’ adventure, portraying the emotional closeness that grows between the pair as they test out the boundaries of their sexuality but also the suffocating intensity that comes from swapping one inordinately close relationship for another. Both actresses are utterly compelling, a raw freshness making their chemistry believable and the naïveté of their characters almost forgivable.

The tendency towards the opaque is constant though as references to WB Yeats are intermittently woven throughout the text to unexplained effect. And the girls encounter three mysterious figures – all played by the excellent Bríd Brennan – with a flair for storytelling on their journey who act almost as fairy godmothers but again, their presence has an elusive quality that may frustrate. But there’s no mistaking the intoxicating power that comes from watching the headlong youthful rush and the despair that seeps in as their heaven crumbles into the desolation of the title. Challenging but worthwhile.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 2nd March

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