With Mark O’Rowe’s latest play Our Few and Evil Days arriving at the Abbey Theatre, Patrick Kelleher reviews the dramatic performance.

Mark O’Rowe’s latest offering comes in the form of Our Few and Evil Days. Spellbindingly real, yet unsettlingly brutal at times, it is filled with drama and action from its opening moments, and rises like a crescendo to an explosive finale. Intriguing, beautifully designed and expertly acted, O’Rowe’s play is a dazzling representation of secrets and lies within the Irish family.

The play opens with Margaret and Michael, a middle-aged couple who are meeting their daughter, Adele’s boyfriend for the first time. They have a conversation which perfectly captures the awkwardness that only an encounter like that can produce – made worse by the fact that Adele is not there, and has been delayed by her friend. The arrival of Adele’s boyfriend Dennis changes things for the family, and a series of events force them to confront the secrets and silences that have plagued their family for years.

The dialogue is written with a surprising realism – Characters cut across each other, ask each other to repeat themselves, and get double meanings from things that are said. The dialogue captures the hilarious awkwardness of these situations, and the play’s actors are especially important to this. Sinéad Cusack as Margaret is superb from the moment she appears on stage. Her facial expressions are more revealing than what she says – something that O’Rowe is clearly keen to express: the gulf between what is said, and what is true.

There are moments, however, when what is true and what is said accidentally collide in monumental explosions from its talented cast. Charlie Murphy as Adele collides with Ian Lloyd-Anderson as Gary in an emotionally charged scene that moves through a dramatic arc. So skilful is the writing that the audience leans in to feel the electricity between them, as Adele broaches the truth for one of the first times in the play. This gains momentum as it proceeds, and within a moment the audience are pulled into the inevitable deception that exists within the family.

One of the play’s finest aspects is its stunning set design. Set-designs are often described as realistic, however few reach the level of Our Few and Evil Days. It reaches a new level of reality that is slightly disconcerting, and adds to the discomfort the audience feels – at times it seems like you are staring directly into their home, and in the most tense and daring scenes, there is an urge to both turn away, and keep watching; it begins to feel like an act of intrusion into territory where the audience don’t belong.

As the play approaches its conclusion, its writing and expert reach new heights, as it approaches its darkest and most dramatic aspects. Its final moment is one of intense darkness, and is deeply unsettling. It is made all the more so by the eerie writing of O’Rowe, who so perfectly achieves that balance between the bizarre and the very real. This is where his play thrives, as a representation of secrets and silence within an Irish household, and as something bizarre and unsettling. Our Few and Evil Days can sometimes feel like a moment of madness, but what a moment of madness it is.