The possibility of losing a child is a fear that haunts every parent. But what if a child tries to commit suicide? How does a parent cope with the implications of that? It is this painful territory that Lucy Caldwell explores, bravely, in her first play, presented here by Druid Theatre.

Leaves examines the impact on an ordinary Belfast family of the oldest daughter’s unsuccessful suicide attempt. The action begins on the evening before 19-year-old Lori returns home from the clinic. It is clear from the tense atmosphere that no one knows how to behave and that family ties are under intolerable strain. Everyone has reacted differently to Lori’s overdose.

Dad, researching a book on the etymology of place names, backs off and buries himself obsessively in his work, as if pinning down words could somehow compensate for not being able to pin down his daughter’s malaise. Mum is the opposite, desperately, restlessly trying to fix Lori, hunting down recipes that might alleviate depression. 15-year-old Clover is furious with her sister. It is perhaps 11-year-old Poppy who expresses the problem most clearly: “There’s no way of knowing what’s actually going on in someone’s head.”

And indeed we never know what prompted Lori, an intelligent girl from a loving family, to take an overdose – whether it was isolation at university; the impact of growing up with the Troubles; despair at the state of the world; a combination of all these; or none of them at all. She remains out of reach. The best scenes in the play are the two in which Mum (Fiona Bell, pale, tense and believably consumed by anguish) edges towards Lori (played with sad stillness by Kathy Rose O’Brien). Here Caldwell digs deep, touches on raw pain and the result is moving.

This is a first play, and elsewhere it has some of the flaws you might expect: it aims for a naturalism that does not always convince, despite Garry Hynes’ sensitive production, and the characters’ positions are too neatly opposed. But Caldwell raises a real and painful issue and it was an inspired decision to make the final scene a flashback to the eve of Lori’s home-leaving, revealing the ease and harmony that now seem beyond reach.
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