Sarah Roy in Catherine and Anita
Sarah Roy in Catherine and Anita
© Dave Walker

It may be unusual to wish that a piece of theatre was more harrowing than it is but that was the main problem I had with this hour-long monologue. Child abuse and mental illness are emotive, distressing subjects and while Derek Ahonen's text doesn't exactly trivialise them, neither does it deal with them in an illuminating or hard-hitting way.

We first encounter Sarah Roy's wired, awkward, clearly disturbed Catherine discussing the recently perpetrated murder of her child-porn viewing husband, with her unseen best friend Anita. The story jumps back then forward in time to establish that Catherine was an exceptionally intelligent child who was sexually abused since the age of five by her father, and we also learn that there is even less to Anita than we are initially led to believe.

Roy pushes the more manic aspects of the leading character a little hard but convincingly presents the different stages in Catherine's young life. Unfortunately, she is hampered by some ham-fisted writing that seldom rings true as the utterances of a child, however precocious. She is very good however in a painful dinner date scene where Catherine meets her future husband and makes some major confessions about her life up to this point.

The short scenes, absence of other characters, and lack of geographical and sociological specificity make it hard to engage with either Catherine or the play itself though. A couple of attempts at humour feel misjudged, given the grim subject matter, while the idea of a severely damaged human being creating a fictional cohort in order to cope with unfathomable trauma is hardly new dramatic territory: last year alone both Alex Gwyther's Eyes Closed, Ears Covered and James Fritz's Parliament Square trod similar ground.

Although undoubtedly well-meaning, the pedestrian writing in tandem with the dearth of groundbreaking psychological revelations and strong characterisation mean that Catherine and Anita feels at times uncomfortably exploitative. It isn't raw and painful enough to convey the genuine horrors of its subject matter, nor insightful enough to overcome its theatrical inertia.

Catherine and Anita runs at the King's Head Theatre until 24 February.