Irish comedy drama ‘The Dry’ sees family chaos put sobriety to the ultimate test

Five months, seventeen days and six hours; that’s how long Siobhan Sheridan has been sober. Even she can’t quite believe it, but a decade living the London party lifestyle had finally taken its toll and artist Siobhan, or Shiv as she prefers to be known, found herself an alcoholic at 35. Something had to give.

With booze swapped for green juice, a yoga mat tucked under her arm, and a renewed sense of determination, eight-part Irish comedy drama The Dry (described by The Guardian as ‘like an Irish Fleabag‘) sees Shiv (Roisin Gallagher) return to Dublin in hopes of a much needed fresh start.

Though her grandmother’s death, not to mention her inability to pay her rent in London, might have hurried the decision along a bit, family is what she needs right now, and Ireland is where she is supposed to be. isn’t it?

It has to be said that the Sheridans present a strong argument to suggest that extended time with one’s family and remaining teetotal are mutually exclusive, but Shiv is up for the challenge. And she doesn’t really have a choice.

Her beloved granny’s wake is the perfect reintroduction to all the Sheridan chaos and presents the first of many hurdles for Shiv. After all, the Irish way to handle grief is usually with plenty of food, singing and a pint or four, but somehow the first two suddenly don’t seem that effective without the third.

Shiv finds herself forced to make small talk with a room full of people who barely recognize her without a glass in hand, and is brought to the startingling realization that, for most of them, her newfound sobriety is more lifestyle choice than necessity. And not one that seems to evoke the admiration she expected:

“Are you sure you’re an alcoholic?” “She was always such fun!”

Whoever said you can feel loneliest in a room full of people must have been sober.

The arrival of ex-boyfriend and fellow artist, Jack (Moe Dunford) presents Shiv with yet another challenge: he is the antithesis of everything she needs right now, and an unwelcome yet irresistible link to a past self she is desperately trying to shake. Add to that the inevitable conversation to be had with her family about her return to Ireland being more a permanent relocation than a fleeting weekend trip, and things are off to a rocky start. But Shiv still hasn’t had a drink and that’s a success as far as she’s concerned.

That’s not to say her family don’t do their best to test Shiv’s commitment to remaining on the dry. Her parents, Bernie (Pom Boyd) and Tom (Academy Award nominee, Ciarán Hinds) are trying to salvage a shaky marriage, her sister, Caroline (Siobhán Cullen) is as uptight as they come with relationship troubles of her own, and her younger brother, Ant (Adam John Richardson) is intent on partying his problems away, to little avail.

Though they might give new meaning to family dysfunction, it has to be said that Shiv has a unique ability to push the self-destruct button too. Her insistence on chairing a twelve-step adjacent ‘family meeting’ to encourage her parents and siblings to face up to their own demons ironically uncovers yet more drama for her to deal with.
“There are things in this family that need to be confronted,” Shiv tells them calmly. “This is a safe space.”
“It’s the living room,” Ant retorts.

You could say not everyone is on board with the idea, and possibly for good reason. Shiv realizes that revisiting the past isn’t without pain, and once secrets are brought out into the open, nothing can ever be quite the same.

With her family life slowly falling apart, Shiv knows she must find a new village, made up of those who understand what it means to be an alcoholic, if she’s to see this recovery thing through. Though Dublin’s posh south side is her comfort zone, with AA meetings that look more like a book club than addiction support, it’s during a visit to an inner-city group where Shiv meets straight-talking group leader, Karen (Janet Moran).

Karen refuses to buy into Shiv’s narrative of self-pity, nominates herself as Shiv’s sponsor and holds her accountable at every turn. And she’s not afraid to tell a few home truths when they’re needed. It’s tough love, for the toughest of times, and try as she might to resist help, each new temptation teaches Shiv that not all battles can be fought alone.

Award-winning Irish writer Nancy Harris’ characters feel real and believable from the outset, as does her depiction of Shiv’s day-to-day struggle to stay sober. Not only is Shiv not your typical alcoholic, she reminds us that there is no such thing. There is no perfect path to recovery and rock bottom is rarely a one-off destination. But it doesn’t mean the journey is over.

From the production company that brought us the screen adaptation of cult-classic Normal People, The Dry was always going to pack an emotional punch. Thanks to the welcome reprieve of Irish charm, and the irreverent humor that accompanies it, it manages to be both a moving account of a fractured family, fighting to hold themselves and each other together, and a hilarious and heartwarming story of a woman learning to forgive herself enough to heal.

The Dry is now streaming at SBS On Demand.

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