Review: Kitty in the Lane at Jack Studio Theatre

Written and performed by Áine Ryan, Kitty in the Lane is almost mesmerising in its intensity. In her isolated family home in the Irish countryside, accessible only by a two-mile lane, Kitty is waiting for her father to die. Though she’s baked him a birthday cake, there’s clearly no love lost between the two, and what Kitty really wants to do tonight is go to the local beauty pageant to cheer on her friend. But her boyfriend Robert is late to collect her, and as the evening slips away, we learn more about the events that have brought her to this moment. And there’s a twist in this tale, which – like all good twists – ultimately leaves us thinking back and questioning everything that’s gone before.

Photo credit: Eamonn B. Shanahan of Capture With Pride

The production, directed by Jack Reardon, is powerfully atmospheric from the start, with Alex Forey’s lighting design creating a strong sense of foreboding and Constance Comparot’s rustic and sparsely furnished set emphasising Kitty’s rural isolation. The pace is steady but not rushed, allowing Ryan’s lyrical text to breathe and giving the audience time to digest each new development as the story unfolds (perhaps this is why the running time, advertised as 70 minutes, ends up closer to 90).

Áine Ryan’s writing is beautifully evocative, painting an extraordinarily detailed picture of Kitty’s life and community; though we never leave the house or meet the story’s other characters, it feels like we have. And while neither Kitty nor the audience ever make it to the critical pageant, through her words we can picture the proceedings, and understand the importance of such an event in a village where nothing ever happens. This only deepens the ongoing mystery of where Robert could be, and what’s making him so late to take his girlfriend to an event that means so much to her.

Photo credit: Eamonn B. Shanahan of Capture With Pride

As for Ryan’s performance, it’s difficult to fault. From the moment she walks on to the stage in her blue dress that’s so at odds with the play’s rural setting, there’s no looking away from her portrayal of this damaged, desperate young woman. Kitty is not a particularly likeable character – as the play begins she’s taunting her dying father with a bottle of whisky, and her relationships with everyone seem fraught with tension – and there’s a spikiness in Ryan’s performance that emphasises this perfectly. But from time to time, that harshness subsides, and we glimpse the grief and vulnerability that lies beneath her tough exterior, long before we understand where that stems from.

Intense and dramatic, Kitty in the Lane keeps you hooked from the beginning. Áine Ryan is an excellent writer and performer, who clearly understands how to craft stories that draw the audience in. The ever-present tension continues to creep upwards throughout the play, eventually reaching a visceral climax that evokes an audible audience reaction. This is quality theatre, with a performance that’s guaranteed to stay with you.

Kitty in the Lane is at the Jack Studio Theatre until 13th May.

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