Old Red Lion Theatre – until 30 November 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Kathryn O’Reilly’s Poisoned Polluted is a hard-hitting but moving two-hander examining the scars of childhood abuse and trauma. Two sisters, never named, just Her (Anna Doolan) and Sister (Kathryn O’Reilly) relive the same cycle of Her forlorn hope that Sister will be able to live cleanly without drugs, only for Sister to fall back into her habit.
Director Lucy Allan makes the story seem organic and allows the cast to shine on the minimalist set. The walls of the stage are covered in sheets of paper that form the image of a woodland – the forest of their childhood escapes – but the sheets are peeling away, just like their image of the forest as the women see their forest for what it was – a meagre stand of trees on the edge of the park which also became a scene of abuse.
As the sisters describe and re-enact their childhood, chasing each other with gleeful innocence until they reach the disturbing truth of their mother’s death and their father’s abuse, the two actors capture the innocent confusion and horror of young children suffering such horrors effortlessly. Their childhood arguments and teasing are sweet and authentic, and big Sister’s protection of her sister is instinctive. As the girls grow up, this instinct becomes blame as Sister spirals into addiction just like her parents, and O’Reilly writes and delivers the desperate, spiteful lines with passion and compassion. The script is non-judgmental, simply revealing the ongoing trauma of victims. The younger sister’s feelings of responsibility for her sister are holding her back from her dreams, but her guilt and love are overwhelming. Doolan and O’Reilly have wonderful chemistry, and both give passionate and physical performances. The movement pieces between scenes are hypnotic, and the sequence where a comforting hug from Sister turns into a relentless grip that Her cannot escape from is inspired.
Poisoned Polluted isn’t a comfortable play to watch, but is emotional and disturbing, with unexpected laughs and heartfelt performances.