Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Inspired by real events, Killymuck is a housing estate built on a paupers graveyard in 1970s Ireland. Niamh navigates life through the parameters of growing up, with the trials and tribulations of being a kid from the benefit class system. Lack of opportunity, educational barriers, impoverishment, addiction and depression are the norms as the struggle to escape the underclass stereotype becomes a priority. From school trips organised as cross-community excursions to unite a fractured post troubles town, to finding the humour within an estate crippled with misfortune.
KillyMuck isn’t finished yet, it is an imperfect play in a space with difficult sight lines and that is nearly all I can say wrong with this production. An absolutely brilliant and brutal portrayal of the inequity and generational desperation of the Benefits Class, Kat Woods has written an assault on the stereotypes and the oppressive culture of poverty in Ireland. Performed with absolute conviction and embodiment by Aoife Lennon, KillyMuck tells the story of Naimh and her family, from an abusive, emotionally distant, alcoholic father whose desires for a better life for his daughters are quelled by the crushing weight of fear and desperation inspired by his constant narrative of education as exit strategy, a cycle of self-fulfilling prophetic failure, to a mother desperately trying to mask her own despair from her children, to a sister destined to surpass her yet never quite breaking the cycle fully.
Kat Woods paints a complete, at times heartwarming, at times heartbreaking portrait of a life built on a paupers’ graveyard, the legend of KillyMuck. Naimh believes it to be cursed, a metaphor for the curse of poverty which makes access to education, health services, jobs, and other programs which lead to social mobility so difficult to achieve. The narrative is rich with imagery from the prostitute neighbor whose biscuits, not a metaphor but a benefit of babysitting while she’s keeping company elsewhere, are as welcome and fulfilling as her colorful, lovely garden, the portrait of Naimh’s mother who struggles not only to hold her self-destructive husband at bay, but to offer her daughters hope in the midst of despair, with little cuttings she plants in their tiny garden, an attempt at creating something beautiful from the remnants and cast-offs of others, even the pride of ownership of a recycled encyclopedia, access to a world which seems always a page turn away.
KillyMuck is at once intensely intimate and yet woefully universal. Naimh identifies herself at birth as an adrenaline junkie, a foreshadow of her future. All this amounts to a powerful and thought-provoking solo show, but KillyMuck refuses to end there, instead stepping out of time, directly addressing the audience as though at an open mic night, or some sort of lecture on the state of poverty in Northern Ireland, putting facts to the narrative, highlighting in stark, unapologetic detail the social and economic impact of poverty and our willingness as a society to ignore it. Even the lighting shifts to something too bright and exposed, to miked audio strident and too loud. It is a powerful juxtaposition calling us to action.
The pace of KillyMuck is relentless, at times stifling and would benefit from the occasional breath, especially in certain moments that are not giving enough weight, but perhaps that is intentional as well, so often tragedy is normalized because to dwell on it is to have to face it. KillyMuck is a show about inequity, perhaps we should not be afforded the opportunity to look away.