A careerist lawyer steps into a police cell, stony-faced and well-kempt. Her client, a 21-year-old mother, is the opposite: frazzled and heartbroken. Sam has been incarcerated while her husband and two children were buried. There was a fire. Her husband was drunk. A stray cigarette. A pool of lighter fluid.
That Sam’s already under lock and key rather undermines Lila Whelan’s debut play as a whodunit, but it doesn’t dampen its suspense. This is a play that releases its secrets with the slow drip-drip-drip of water torture. The lawyer, Caitlin, isn’t simply doing her job. She’s flown in from New York especially and the case’s closeted skeletons have as much bearing on her life as on Sam’s.
‘The Deep Space’ can seem a checklist of the most overwhelming traumas: child abuse, domestic violence, bulimia and infanticide all feature prominently. It should be unbearably overwrought, but Whelan’s contemporary Greek tragedy is coiled into a taut two-hander (if one ignores the baggy and superfluous flashbacks) laced with a clacking lyricism.
There’s a crackling chemistry between the two women – Whelan plays Caitlin herself, fantastically as it happens, alternately relentless and humane, while Abbiegale Duncan handles Sam’s turmoil with a light touch. A middling play from a playwright with real promise. Matt Trueman