Old Red Lion, Angel (venue)
09 November 2019 (released)
12 November 2019
‘Poisoned Polluted’ is a fearless account of the repercussions of a childhood torn apart by neglect and abuse. Written and performed by Kathryn O’Reilly in a two hander with and Anna Doolan who plays her younger sister, their suffocating, deeply enmeshed relationship unfolds in 80 minutes of gripping, no frills theatre.
In the intimate space of the Old Red Lion, the walls are papered in torn trees indicated the ‘forest’ near their childhood home with a few boxes representing the barren rooms. O’Reilly (her character named SISTER) appears to be just back from rehab. She is cold and defensive while the younger sister (HER) who seems healthier and happier, desperately tries to appease. SISTER regards her own life as a mistake, starting with her birth that nearly killed their alcoholic mother and having parented HER from age five, she continuously switches from love to bitter envy, convinced that things have always been so much easier for her little sister. But as the weight of her troubled life bears down on her sibling, it transpires, things have never been that straightforward.
The narrative unfolds through flashbacks to their childhood and then on towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion. The terrible tragedy that broke up their dysfunctional home leads with faltering steps on to a young adulthood peppered with moments of hope before the slow slide into addiction take hold. Kathyrn O’Reilly’s dialogue is unrelenting and clawing in a way that a desperate, symbiotic relationship can be. Yet the savagery is balanced by their childhood imagination, which turns the few trees in the park into a forest, the acorns into food when they are hungry.
There are multiple challenges in finding theatrical representations for the repeated cycles of hope and grim despair that characterise unresolved childhood trauma and the attempts to find relief in substance abuse. But these are challenges that writer, actors and director Lucy Allen prove themselves more than capable of taking on. It’s a courageous piece of theatre with a rich, psychological realism.