Edinburgh Fringe 2021
Myra wakes up in a hostel. She collects herself, her belongings and takes us on her way to the first bottle of medicine. Once she has that in her hand, she gives us the tragedy that brought her life to where she falls asleep on a cold winter’s day on a park bench. On both journeys, pre and post medicine she tells us the tales of meeting of the man of her dreams, Tommy, the fight to have their wedding with her dad, the loss of her mother early in her own life and then the loss of an early life in a cot which is interspersed with the characters of her own urban legend – Bridie and Jimmy the Tadpole, Matilda and Christie and many others, especially the Garden Gnome – who inhabit a tale of woe, pride, and real people caught up with the troubles of an island whose scars go much deeper than the injuries of bombs and bullets. In the end, she falls asleep as we awaken to her tale.
There is a joy in the simplicity of the theatre telling a good tale, well. Myra’s Story is the embodiment of that. It is directed with an astute eye upon the reactions of a live audience. The acting has realized where the nuances have cadence and where the silences create poise. The intertwining of both arts gives the piece a life which belies its tragedy. The script allows the dark to illuminate and the brightness to relieve our tension. It may not rival Shakespeare in its craft in words, but it understands that craft in the narrative.
The set needed no more than what was onstage. A bench. It signifies so much, and the simple costume also gave us all we needed. We needed the tale.
Myra is a wily old soul. She has lived a life on the street with her wits being all she requires to stay alive, though seldom, it would seem out of trouble. All of the attendant dangers have been visited upon her and the revelation of these by the end heighten the effect across the footlights. But this would not be possible without an actor who has empathy, true empathy for her character. They have to know the inner dignity of that person who has the ability to fight but not the fight to win.
I was unsure at the beginning as the script appeared to meander into the story. It did begin to feel a little forced and by the end of the first section I was wondering if the beginning could be tighter directed to bring some five minutes or so off the length. Aside from that, having an actor who delays the use of her vocal abilities to bring other characters alive, until we are warmed up understands how to take us along. And what a range of voices. They thrill and enhance what we hear. Of course, there may be an element of caricature, but it is only those people who have no empathy for the failures they see in front of them who judge them thus. Rather we need people who can understand the pain and suffering that underpins the need for the traumatized to be fanciful, to have tales to tell that do not remind them of what you have experienced; embellishing things are means to survival.
I write as the alcoholic son of an alcoholic mother. I did not see my mother onstage for the most part. Her descent was different. But I did see her at the end when Myra had the sun set on her day and the effects of the alcohol turn her conscious thought into unconsciousness. I did not have a tear in my eye. Nor did I feel anger as I did as a child. This was not the healing properties of theatre, as I had healed long ago, but the realization, once again, that our stories are rich, no matter the teller and no matter the subject. I truly loved this and when people stood at the end, I hoped they did so as much for Myra as for the person with the gift of restoring her life.