Drip Feed at the Soho theatre is, in a few different ways, painful to watch. I don’t mean this as a negative comment – the play knows exactly what it is doing, and it enjoys it. The main source of this discomfort is that, for all the dry laughter and eye rolls, the story and its characters are virtually totally hopeless. Set in economically deprived, chronically underfunded Cork during the 1990s, there are few jobs and fewer opportunities for genuine self-improvement. To really make something of yourself, you’ll have to leave. Paris, London, anywhere. This undercurrent of ‘here’ being a dead end underpins everything and everyone else.
It is more this hopelessness than anything else that has shaped the narrator, Brenda. Played by creator Karen Cogan, Brenda is both far removed from the comfortable central London venue, and excruciatingly familiar to everyone inside of it. At 34 and on the dole, she’s living at a dead end. Her part-time job in a cafe and the ex-girlfriend who’s long since broken off contact seem to be her only focuses. In some ways, we learn more from what isn’t said. A couple of instances of homophobia are mentioned, but it’s all too easy to draw the dots pointing towards an obviously homophobic culture. Similarly, we’re told at first that her best friend and flatmate is away in England, working. Later, the story quietly shifts into the truth – that Veronica has been hospitalised following a severe bout of bipolar disorder. More than anything else, Brenda is in denial about her ex-girlfriend, Olivia. Utterly convinced that they’ll be drawn back together by fate or chance, and not even remotely willing to give thought to the alternative, she’s living simultaneously in a romanticised past and an unlikely future.
One aching constant in this play is Brenda’s total underreaction to terrible events. While she’ll happily compare a hangover to death itself, she’s all too quick to anecdotally brush off her mother’s death, her clearly traumatic breakup, and other tragic events that come to pass during the play. Pain has become the norm for her, and there’s little more to do than breathe and move on. She hasn’t got the emotional maturity to really handle all these things – perhaps no one has – so she’s not really willing to try. This in turn has another effect. Cogan’s character seems dependent on moments of probably not entirely justified bravado, but these are brutally undermined by what can only be described as a sort of blankness in response to loss. Her vulnerability presents itself as a kind of nothingness, treating an emotional void as preferable to whatever feelings she may otherwise have to contend with.
All in all, this piece just feels bittersweet. It is close to home and doesn’t try to keep any distance from the issues at its heart, but it doesn’t do them to death either. It strikes a fine balance between the two, and comes out with something not hopeful, but somehow very much alive. Draining but vibrant.
Drip Feed is playing at the Soho Theatre until 20 October. For more information and tickets, click here.