Not for the faint of heart, Dry Land, currently running at the Jermyn Street Theatre, delves into the real lives of two teenage girls in Florida, exposing with biting honesty just how confused and conflicted being a young woman in the world today can be.
With Amy (Milly Thomas) pregnant, desperate to abort, deathly afraid her parents will find out, and unable to afford any kind of above-board treatment, it falls to her meek hanger-on, Ester (Aisha Fabienne Ross) to help her find a way to do so.
The result is a searingly funny and unsettling play which bravely, but also gracefully, grapples with numerous taboo subjects, from a woman’s right to choose, to female sexuality and how young women are taught to drive themselves to extremes to be perfect.
Young writer Ruby Rae Spiegel’s first full length play is frustratingly good, world rich, expansive, detailed and just incredibly well-drawn, with characters fascinating, textured and nuanced. Spiegel’s work is undoubtedly inspired by the likes of Annie Baker, who shun traditional high drama for more intimate character studies, but her voice and style are very much her own. Where plenty of plays these days strive to be ‘gritty’ and ‘edgy’ and in their very doing so fall well short of the mark, Dry Land is as spiky, sincere and genuinely exciting as they come.
The performances are equally as good, doing real justice to the text, in particular Fabienne Ross who captures Ester’s doe-like quality perfectly and endearingly, in turn making the moments where Ester does step up and show her mettle truthful and very powerful. It has to be said that more could have been made of the design, where Anna Reid presents a simple and literal version of a swimming pool locker room, and equally some bigger risks and decisions might have been taken directorially by Hauer-King, but this is nonetheless a great showcase of a brilliant new writer and some very talented actresses.
Dry Land is tough viewing at times, but the play feels genuinely boundary-pushing for how boldly and unashamedly it exposes the minutiae of these girls’ lives, and some of the grim realities we’d all much rather ignore, making it a well worthwhile evening at the theatre.
Dry Land is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 21 November. For more information and tickets, see the Jermyn Stree Theatre website. . Photo by Richard Davenport.