Edinburgh Fringe 2015
In this Dublin Fringe sell-out show writer and performer Catriona Ni Mhruchu, alongside performer Louse Lewis, sets out to tell the story of Ireland’s most hated woman and perhaps rehabilitate her reputation. Fragments of story and opinion supported by mixed media make this a treat for anyone interested in history, national identity, lost culture or just a really good story.
If you didn’t grow up in Ireland you may not know the name Peig Sayers, Ireland’s “most hated woman”. The storyteller lived in poverty in a tiny Irish-speaking community on Great Blasket Island for most of her lifetime and her famously bleak biography, which she dictated to her son as she was illiterate herself, became required reading for Irish secondary school students for over 70 years much to their collective disgust.
As informative as the show is, it’s more than just a history lesson. The layered and fragmented storytelling also paints a picture of a modern Ireland where Irish is rarely spoken and mass emigration has impacted the idea of an Irish identity. Particularly effective are the often humorous recordings of students talking about defacing their Peig Sayers books and the comments made by locals when hearing Irish spoken, such as the old woman on the bus who told the Irish speaker to “go back to your country and stop taking our jobs”. The physical performances are supported by clever use of vintage photographs and film, some of which have been augmented using animation, which are projected onto a screen as well as across the performers themselves at the same time as they are played on several old televisions dotted on one side of the stage. The old filmed footage and news recordings lend poignancy to the depiction of a small community whose customs and daily habits would be completely lost without Peig’s written record.
The script is mainly in English although Irish is spoken at times, predominantly by Ni Mhruchu, who delivers it in a rich, emotional fashion conveying the beauty and pathos of this dying language. English subtitles are provided only when the meaning of what is being said is important to the narrative. The performances are strong and complement each other although at times the practised delivery and lilting nature of their voices can make it difficult to retain the factual information they are sharing about Peig’s life. The mixture of stories and opinions build an interesting theatrical world but the dramaturgical arc of the piece could be made clearer with some tightening of the content and delivery.
This show was of particular interest to me, having an Irish mother who was fluent in Irish and spent time at a Gaelic school where speaking English was not allowed, but who now by her own account has forgotten much of the language through lack of use. However, even for those who have no links with Ireland, I think the engaging storytelling and creative multimedia elements make this a really strong piece most audience members would enjoy so I have no hesitation recommending it.