An ordinary suburban house bears the scars of past traumas in Deborah Bruce’s new play: its curtains hide unwanted surprises, its stairs creak with banished memories, its carpet is horribly stained. ‘Dixon and Daughters’ is a different kind of haunted house drama, one that builds from slow beginnings to something disturbing and memorable.
At first, you feel like a ghost that's drifted into someone else's home; the relationships and backstories only emerge gradually. Grey-haired Mary (Brid Brennan) has been away for a while, and her daughters are fetching and carrying for her, trying to tempt her out of her apathy with cod and parsley sauce. But she's unwilling to play the cuddly granny. Instead, she's angry that her lost-seeming, hard-drinking daughter Julie (Andrea Lowe) has been sleeping in her bed, and chafes against more sensible sister Bernie (Liz White) when she attempts to mother her.
Soon, two still more chaotic presences arrive to stir up the dust. Stepsister Briana (Alison Fitzjohn) leans in to her presence as black sheep of the family by swooping around in a fur-trimmed cape, vengeful in her quest for closure. Homeless Leigh (Posy Sterling) is offered a bed, and in return gives up hilariously inappropriate (but generally correct) insights into the family's underlying tensions: when Mary shows her a picture of her late husband, she says that he looks like he ‘wants sucking off.’
Bruce's writing deftly scratches out the outlines of these abrasive, damaged, strange women – Mary's relatively normal granddaughter Ella (Yazmin Kayani) feels like a visitor from another planet, her softness unbruised by bad experiences. Each one has a real arc and journey, an impressive feat in a play that's only 90 minutes long. And it's refreshing that although this play is full of trauma, it resists going deep into the grim details.
Roisin McBrinn's production adds haunted house trappings (jumpscares and strange shadows) that don't always hit home, but its strong performances supply a more successful kind of chill. This play's six-strong, all-female cast carry a powerful unspoken message even when they're silent. In this house, abuse is an inevitable reality of growing up, affecting each in different but inescapable ways. It's a reminder of how gendered violence is part of the furniture in so many ordinary homes, long after the headlines have moved on.