When a playwright has seemingly overnight success with one of their more recent works it seems natural to go back to a previously acclaimed work but when that work feels underdeveloped and lacking in depth it is a risky decision.
David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue was a stunning look at Northern Irish Protestant identity in 21st century as Award-winning actor Stephen Rea starred as Eric Miller, a man convinced his newborn granddaughter is Gerry Adams. Everything Between Us, which makes its English premiere seven years after its American debut feels like a prototype to that Royal Court production.
Teeni (Katrina McKeever) returns to Belfast 11 years after disappearing without a trace and her timing could be better as her MLA sister, Sandra (Lyndsey-Anne Moffat), is working at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Stormont and Teeni has burst in, racially abused the South African chairwoman and now the police think she is a terrorist.
They aren’t wrong, Teeni emotionally terrorises her sister by being cagey about whereabouts and why she is back. What follows is not just a catch up but an attempt by the sisters to understand how their paths have been do different.
The problem is that David Ireland either doesn’t know why they have come to those paths or has decided not to tell us. Whilst specific incidents are dealt with (Teeni’s alcoholism) there are others like Sandra’s separation from her partner, their relationship with their parents and their childhood that are skimmed across. From the thoughtful writer that brought us such darkness and light this doesn’t feel as well developed and you can see what bits he then used for Cypress Avenue (violently attacking a baby, Northern Irish identity, pretending to be someone else to fit in at an Irish bar, Protestant contempt for the English) but whereas Stephen Rea’s Miller development within the play was clear there are so many gaps and lack of major shocks that it is hard to care. One of the few issues with Cyprus Avenue was underwritten female characters and it is sad that a two-hander with two strong actresses feels like Ireland doesn’t know how to write women.
Let’s look at this play as it is. McKeever’s Teeni is at her best when she is left to do her own thing, such as a monologue about the actions that lead her to give up the booze but any interaction with Moffat’s Sandra is 0-60 and quite draining. Teeni is humorous but utterly vile and Sandra gives us very little; Who is she? How did she become an MLA? Why should the audience care about the valid points about a changing Northern Ireland when the characters telling us don’t seem to have truly developed themselves? That emotional connection just never clicked, not helped by intrusive and unnecessary music during the few engaging scenes.
As a development of Ireland, both the country and the playwright, this is an interesting but unsatisfying watch but anyone coming to this without seeing Cypress Avenue will wonder what the fuss at Royal Court was all about last year.
Everything Between Us is on until 16 May at Finborough Theatre