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Desolate Heaven (REVIEW): Too Much, Too Young - The Burden Of Nursing A Parent

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Flavia Fraser

3starsculture

As our bodies, emotions and relationships change from the inside out, we must all ride the hormonal rollercoaster of our teenage years. Irish playwright Ailís Ní Ríain explores the tumultuous adventure of two runaway teenagers in Desolate Heaven, a new piece of writing at Theatre503.

Contending with their impending adulthood, Sive (Evelyn Lockley) and Orlaith (Carla Langley) must also juggle the stress of caring for their invalid single parents.

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Evelyn Lockley as Sive

The girls have been denied 'normal' childhoods, instead their lives are a routine of administering medicines, running a household single-handed and being subjected to the bitter rants of their bedridden parent.

A miserable state of affairs, that is until the gregarious Orlaith hatches a plan to escape to 'Heaven'.

Desolate Heaven is bold theatre, which should be commended for painting a sensitive portrait of the ordeal of children and teenagers who care for sick or disabled relatives, which research shows can lead to lasting psychological damage in later life.

Ríain explores the trauma that Sive and Orlaith's have experienced in their role as family carers, however, a myriad of separate issues are heaped on.

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Left Evelyn Lockley (Sive) and right Carla Langley (Orlaith)

The girls' burgeoning sexuality develops into an intimate affection for each other. As they both come to terms with their feelings, confusion, jealous rages and violence follows.

Rather than naturally developed, the inferred relationship between all these issues feels misguided and over-ambitious.

Are all confused homosexual teenagers driven to acts of extreme violence? Perhaps some, but Ríain draws connections that are muddled, with a melodramatic finale that gives little meaning.

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Carla Langley (Orlaith) and Evelyn Lockley (Sive)

Ríain's merging of the real with the fantastical is charmingly portayed by Bríd Brennan who plays three eccentric characters that the girls meet: Freda the farmer, Laoise the lorry driver and Bridie the butcher, all portrayed with a mystical air.

Each of Brennan's performances carry a message of equality, as she beautifully recounts a fairy tale to the children in three scenes. However, the familiar variation of the Rumpelstiltskin story feels unadventurous - an entirely original tale would be more gripping.

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Brid Brennan as Freda and Bridie

The impressive performances from Lockley and Langley, both making their professional debuts at Theatre503 under direction from Paul Robinson, makes Desolate Heaven stand out.

Langley excels as the tomboyish and fearless Orlaith, bringing a consistent energy and liveliness to the small theatre. Lockley gives the pair's relationship a touching tenderness as she plays the timorous Sive with wide-eyed innocence. The two actors have very bright futures before them.

Desolate Heaven is at Theatre503, London, 5 Feb – 2 March 2013.

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