Loyal Women, Royal Court Theatre, London

In 'Loyal Women', Gary Mitchell has a powerful and potentially devastating theme. Other playwrights, notably Martin McDonagh, have suggested that the attraction of the IRA could be the feeling of masculinity it confers on men who can make up, with violence and rhetoric, their sexual and emotional failings. In this play, the Women's Ulster Defence Association likewise compensates for vanishing family and social ties.

On a council estate where the only occupations seem to be TV-watching, sex, drink and assault, Brenda battles to keep her demoralised household going. She has kicked out her ex-convict husband, Terry, after his drunken fling, but she still looks after his bedridden mother. To Brenda's teenage daughter, Jenny, membership of the WUDA offers a diversion from caring - when she can be bothered - for her baby.

Gossiping about neighbours with suspected Catholic sympathies and planning reprisals, the women achieve a closeness and sense of purpose absent from the rest of their lives. But, in the weeks before Christmas, the nature of their activity breeds distrust. Brenda is forced to become treasurer of the local WUDA branch because anyone who volunteers for the job is suspected of embezzlement. Maureen, the head of the group, wants to hand over her job to Brenda; another woman, furious at being passed over, becomes angrier when told why. What seems to be an alternative family is, in reality, a more dangerous duplicate.

Josie Rourke's cast - particularly Michelle Fairley as Brenda, Lisa Hogg as Jenny and Clare Cathcart as Brenda's rival - are impeccable in their bitter and defeated demeanour. But the production lacks that vital theatrical spark that goes beyond realism, a deficiency most obvious in the writing. Real-life WUDA women may well express themselves in soap-opera clichés, but that's no excuse for Mitchell to do so. There were no giggles on the first night, but I think a less partisan audience will be amused when Brenda says, in a lull during the shouting, "This isn't a good time for me.".

And the play is frequently confusing on major matters. We don't know how long Terry has been out of prison (an important plot point), or what Brenda feels about him. The conflicting emotions she avows seem implausible, as do the reason for his imprisonment and his explanation of it.

Loyal Women has a nice sound effect - the scenes begin with Christmas carols that fade into martial music - but the verbal music of the play is too often off-key and out of tune.

To 13 December (020-7565 5000)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world