Edinburgh Fringe 2015
The Corn Exchange, makers of festival hits Man of Valour and Freefall, returns to the Traverse with this astonishing portrayal of an Irish girl trying to make sense of her fractured childhood. Rebellious and unrelenting, Aoife Duffin performs with an urgency and honesty that is electrifying. Adapted for the stage and directed by Annie Ryan.
How do you talk about this show? How do you talk about anything after seeing it? How can you sleep at night?
When you enter the theatre there is nothing to suggest what might lie before save one solitary light which illuminates what seems to be a gravelly surface stretching out across the stage and, of course, the brief notes of introduction on the flyer. Anticipation pervades the air like an uncomfortable electrical buzz and we wonder whether the rocks are a metaphor for the journey we are about to take together, and this is only compounded by the setting, as we sit like a Greek chorus in an amphitheatre around the stage, peering down like inquisitive vultures on whatever may appear before us.
In the beginning, as they say, there was nothing, and so is the case here with the fabulous Aoife Duffin beginning her story in pitch darkness. Words ringing through the blackness like bells calling the penitent to Sunday morning mass. The story begins to unfold as light slowly pierces the stage accompanied by an eerie but brilliant soundscape, designed by Mel Mercier, which interjects throughout the show in an almost narrator-like way commenting on and adding to the action. This is no easy story to tell and Eimear McBride’s wonderful words, masterfully adapted by Annie Ryan (who also directs), are brilliantly brought to life by Duffin who effortlessly switches back and forth between the varied and colourful characters as we journey through the childhood and teenage years of an Irish girl and her fractured family history.
It is easy, however, to feel a little battered and under fire here with the narrative encompassing a huge amount of violence and pain. Religion, cancer, brain damage, family discord, sexual abuse, and even suicide all feature in the story which is played out on the huge Traverse stage in minimal lighting. There is no doubt that Duffin gives a courageous performance but it could, perhaps, have benefited from a little more intimacy and care. It’s almost like reading a child’s bedtime story through a megaphone. That’s not to say that this feels like a lecture, far from it. There’s much to love in this almost machine-gun-like rapid-fire delivery. At times though the intonation, accents, and delivery left me wanting more.
While this production most certainly tugs at the heartstrings it does not ask for sympathy. The stark portrayal of family life here seems almost documentarian at times with the young female protagonist seeming somewhat too strong to be taken completely seriously. But then perhaps it is in this extra defence against her predatory uncle, her unyielding mother, and the men who take advantage of her weakness that her survival and her legacy are assured.