Preview: There Came A Gypsy Riding, Almeida Theatre, London

Can marriage survive some terrible truths?
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The Independent Culture

Even a playwright with 14 plays under his belt awaits the audience's reaction to a new work with a certain trepidation. The Irish writer Frank McGuinness, whose plays include Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme and Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, has a new play about to undergo the litmus test of a first night, There Came a Gypsy Riding. "It doesn't get any easier being a playwright," says McGuinness. "Each play is different. It is a series of shocks until it is born. Theatre is a perilous business - you never know what tomorrow brings."

There Came a Gypsy Riding stars Eileen Atkins as Bridget, who is attending an anniversary in the west of Ireland, where Margaret (Imelda Staunton) and Leo (Ian McElhinney) are marking what would have been the 21st birthday of their late son. When Bridget exposes a family secret, it threatens the equilibrium of the family. "I have written about relationships before," says McGuinness, "but I wanted to write a play about marriage, because it is a new subject for me. Can it survive the tragedy of losing a child, and terrible truths?"

McGuinness once again joins forces with the Almeida's artistic director Michael Attenborough, who directed Observe the Sons... - McGuinness's breakthrough play at the Hampstead Theatre - more than 20 years ago. "I have been friends with Michael for over 20 years. I wanted to work with him on this play because we both have experienced some violent family losses. It is about recovery from grief or the necessity to grieve."

And that first night? "I always knew I was doing what I loved best when I started my career," says McGuinness. "I am just lucky to get so many plays performed."

To 3 March (020-7359 4404; www.almeida.co.uk). For best seats at half price (£15) plus other special complimentary offers for 'Independent' readers including free programme, post-show talk and dinner, call the Almeida box office between 10am and 6pm, Monday to Friday on 020-7359 4404. Callers should quote 'The Independent Offer'.

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