Lizzie Nunnery’s 2007 play Intemperance is set within the Irish community in 1854 Liverpool. A single dour room houses five members of an immigrant family. It’s unbearably oppressive living in such close proximity with others, and Zoë Waterman’s production successfully uses the intimacy of the New Vic’s in-the-round space to convey the rising familial tensions.
World-weary Millie (masterfully played by Krissi Bohn) is pregnant by her Norwegian second husband, Brynjar (a well-cast Oystein Kanestrom). Buoyed by his optimism, she dares to dream that a home with curtains and a sink will soon be hers.
Millie’s children from her first marriage, Niamh (Niamh Finlay) and Ruairi (Thomas Grant), struggle to share this hope. Grant’s Ruairi is petulant and mercurial, while Finlay gives a powerful, nuanced performance that hints at the vulnerability beneath Niamh’s prickliness and bluster. Millie’s father Fergal (John O’Mahony) watches the bickering with detached amusement. It is a testament to O’Mahony’s skill as a storyteller that he fills the stage with the force of Fergal’s personality despite being bed-bound for the entirety of the production.
Waterman’s direction ensures that the tone shifts effortlessly from dark humour to sombre reflection, aided by an evocative soundscape featuring tunes from the fiddle and accordion (directed by Jonathan Girling). For all their rich particularity, the characters and their stories tell a universal truth about the cycle of poverty and how difficult it is to escape. It may be miniature in scale, but the New Vic’s production feels epic in its scope.