Under Pressure

Bewley's Café Theatre presents 'Under Pressure' by Rachel Fehily.

Bewley's Café Theatre presents 'Under Pressure' by Rachel Fehily.

The phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey has already made its presence felt on the Irish theatre world, what with 51 Shades of Maggie enjoying a month long run on the Tivoli stage. The book is also a key plot point in Rachel Fehily's anomalous legal drama Under Pressure, which ran recently at Bewley's Cafe Theatre. Leaving the witty back and forths, the shocking revelations and surprise witnesses to Agatha Christie, Under Pressure is a simple conversation between a Senior Counsel and her client as to how they should approach his trial.

David Gallagher (Geoff Minogue), a successful ear, nose and throat surgeon, has been accused of the murder of his wife, Lisa, a homemaker, while spicing things up in the sack. She was strangled with one of his red Prada ties after she suggested giving bondage a whirl upon reading about it in the popular page-turner. He claims it was sex play gone wrong and seems confident enough that he will be vindicated when they go to trial. But when Senior Counsel Helen Collins (Céire O’Donoghue) starts going through the Book of Evidence with him, it becomes apparent that things aren't as clear-cut as they seem.

Fehily never makes Gallagher's guilt or innocence explicit. In fact, it’s not really an issue of interest to either Collins or the audience. She presents the conversation as it is: commonplace - something that happens nearly every day down in the Criminal Courts of Justice. A barrister herself, Fehily carries the professional distance lawyers must have when representing suspected murderers into her role as playwright, making Under Pressure less a 'who done it' and more a peek behind the curtains at the decisions one must make before facing a judge.

The piece lacks any sense of dramatic tension but remains involving through the manner with which Fehily disposes with the usual gimmicks contained in courtroom dramas to focus on the very human predicament Gallagher faces. If he is innocent, as he maintains, should he plead guilty if it may result in a lighter sentence? What does this do to his reputation, his relationships? How can something you say in a state of panic and confusion end up being the noose around your own neck? Even when he changes his story from the one first presented, it’s not the revelation itself that piques our interest but how it might appear to a jury.

Under Pressure by Rachel FehilyWhile Under Pressure succeeds in dramatising the legal process, it falls down when it comes to character. We have little investment in the fate of Gallagher as O’Donoghue’s crisp, icy delivery from the off leaves you with little doubt as to where she stands on the strength of his case. While it’s a credible portrayal of a top end lawyer, as written, her sole purpose seems to be to wear Gallagher down and make him face facts. 

And Gallagher just isn’t likeable enough for us to care about his outcome. He flirts with Collins the minute she enters, is prone to self-aggrandising and comes out with statements like “I had no idea she wasn’t okay...I mean we were making love...I wasn’t exactly [paying attention].” 

Things are further complicated by the damning monologues provided by the ghost of his wife (an empathetic Deborah Pearce) who wanders about the stage recalling his lack of understanding of her needs – sexual, professional and maternal – to such a degree that the playwright seems to be saying to all the ladies in the house “Sure you know what men are like.”

Director Gina Moxley shows restraint in not letting the ghostly or seedier details of the drama overwhelm the core questions at its heart and, bar one bizarre moment which saw Pearce playing house under the table, makes no attempt to add unnecessary abstractions to the text.

The most interesting aspect of this drama is how a character like Collins functions in her job when you suspect she finds the person she is representing is guilty. Also fascinating is how circumstance and poor decision-making by a defendant can lead them to plead guilty to a crime they say they didn't commit. It is when she moves beyond the courts that Fehily drives her piece off course and dilutes the appeal of the production.

Caomhan Keane is a freelance journalist who has written about theatre for The Irish Times, the Sunday Independent and entertainment.ie

  • Review
  • Theatre

Under Pressure by Rachel Fehily

27 May - 8 June 2013

Produced by Bewley's Café Theatre
In Bewley's Café Theatre

Directed by Gina Moxley

With: Geoff Minogue, Céire O’Donoghue and Deborah Pearce