Three brothers fall for the same woman with devastating consequences in this tense drama of sibling rivalry, forbidden lust, and great wrong (check the content warnings if you feel you need to). Much of the story unfolds in the confessional booth, where brothers Alec (Max Hallam), Ryan (Ryan Gilkes) and Michael (Steve Cowley) and Alec’s girlfriend Fiona (Hollie Wade) unburden themselves to an unnamed Priest (Stu Jackson, who also produces and directs). We know from the start that Fiona’s pregnant and in a quandary what to do about it, but we don’t know why.
The confessional is an odd device to have chosen. Strictly speaking, it works in terms of driving the narrative forward, but the characters are in and out of it like diarrhoea sufferers at a toilet cubicle, and we’re not convinced this is their natural method of working through troubles. With the exception of heavily Catholic and in-the-closet Alec, it’s an unlikely place for them to find peace. Ryan’s a drug user, womaniser and something of a waster. Michael’s a family man by day, philanderer by night. Both have lots to confess, but you can’t really believe they’re doing so, certainly not to the impassive Jackson, whose Priest is plain and uncharismatic. They’re not there for his lively and insightful philosophy for sure. Fiona admits she hasn’t said confession since sixth form, but more than makes up for it now, the fear of her pregnancy at least being partial motivation for her return to the church.
Writer Helen Ackrill’s plot is meaty; the characters drawn well to create a good tension between them. A scene in which the three brothers line up and each hint at the horror to come, is particularly suspenseful. Fiona is the victim in all of this, prey to the brothers’ insecurities and moodswings, and weighing up the brothers’ increasing guilt is what gives the play its bite.
The acting is solid, though it could be rounder in places. Cowley makes a good Peter Barlow figure, a potential family man derailed by drink, gambling and women, but some of his dialogue with Fiona runs at maximum throttle and could use some more dynamics. Ryan has a laddy swagger which works reasonably well. Hallam’s Alec is a weak and introspective man that could use an extra dimension. The same goes for Wade as Fiona. More chemistry between Fiona and the family and a greater sense that happiness was potentially in the air, would make this plummet more precipitous. At root, though, (Ab)solution is a good, gripping story with a hint of the kitchen sink drama about it.