Docu-dramas have a way of boring the pants off their audience, who may, nevertheless, feel a sneaking sense of guilt should they happen to come away feeling insufficiently chastised. But that is the legacy of indifferently-written material. Dennis Kelly is in another class altogether, and his latest play, which concerns the predicament and subsequent trial of Donna McAuliffe, a young mother convicted of the murder of her two children, is almost aggressively good, with a fine company who consistently give it their best shot.
The stage, in Patrick Connellan’s design, is starkly bare except for a doll in a rose-edged box, representing infant vulnerability. A scattering of chairs and a single table are all that is needed while the flow of ideas, traumas and interrogations take place. Anthony Clark never allows the tension to drop and his use of a single chair or a couch, depending on the status of the character under interrogation - from Donna herself to a dodgy psychologist - is admirable.
Kelly does not pull his punches and his text, constructed from an actual case history, is set around a bitter criticism of governmental cheap-skate mendacity, something we see through the eyes of Donna’s mother, a parliamentary candidate selfishly terrified that her daughter’s predicament may affect her chances on the hustings.
The canvas is large, yet Kelly never loses his focus, and he takes a cunning swipe at over-ambitious supermarket chains anxious to set up new branches which overwhelm and destroy rural settlements to the point of extinction.
Truth is a word which frequently surfaces in an exciting script, and the statement is reiterated that truth does not exist, it is purely subjective - a conclusion not unknown to Pilate. Move that idea on to judge and jury and you leave the theatre wondering if she did indeed kill her children.
Clark uses a Big Brother voice and a single spot to close a rare and facinating evening. A new, composed Donna, tells her questioner she intends to marry and then tells us she is pregnant again. It is a dark and imponderable thought you take away with you into the night.