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Theatre review: The Deep Space at the Old Red Lion Theatre

PUBLISHED: 16:46 01 March 2013 | UPDATED: 16:46 01 March 2013

Lila Whelan, Oliver Yellop and Abbiegale Duncan in The Deep Space at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Lila Whelan, Oliver Yellop and Abbiegale Duncan in The Deep Space at the Old Red Lion Theatre

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Talented writer and actress Lila Whelan omits no emotion from play set in psychiatric hospital, inspired by a newspaper clipping

A haunting production in a claustrophobic space, Lila Whelan’s The Deep Space thoroughly succeeds in getting under your skin.

Set in a minimal cell in a psychiatric hospital in a Northern town, the audience looks breathlessly on as if we’re just the other side of a two-way mirror.

Watching the plot unfold gives you little choice but to take on the role of a shrink yourself. You question and analyse every word and action as Samantha, played by recent drama school graduate Abbiegale Duncan, recalls the way her husband and children fell victim to a house fire.

Apart from Duncan’s forgivable fumbling over words, she far exceeds her amateur status in her passionate performance. Her deluded and resentful character battles with reality as the psychologist, played by Whelan herself, challenges the victim-cum-suspect’s stubborn recollections.

The emotionally-loaded episode is interrupted only by characters from Samantha’s memory: her husband Liam played by Oliver Yellop and her neighbour Kay played by Sarah Fraser.

Both play their respective self-destructive and superficial characters with admirable devotion, and earn our utmost disgust in the process. As secrets are told, relationships unveiled and a tragedy explored, we’re forced to face our notions of right and wrong and enter a deeply uncomfortable space where the most troubled thoughts are born.

We’re led to a place where fears of abuse, rape, suicide, and betrayal cast a shadow over every new day.

Inspired by a newspaper clipping, an unfortunate incident we might offer a moment’s reflection on our journey to work, Whelan asks us to linger over the state of our own morality. What, this play asks, could you be capable of in the moment of your darkest despair?

As the undeniably talented writer and actress takes her final bow, the tears in Whelan’s eyes are proof this is a woman who has omitted no emotion from her work.

* The Deep Space is at the Old Red Lion Theatre in St John Street, EC1, until March 9. Box office: 0844 412 4307.

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