Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A one-woman show about heartbreak, madness and how mustard is the ultimate coping mechanism from award winning Irish playwright and performer.
E is a fragile young woman, easily swept along in the currents of heady nights of clubland London, a delicious contrast to dowdy rural Ireland. Not even the excitement of her mum’s evangelic Wednesday church meetings fuelled with consecrated Ribena can encourage her to stay and off she skips across the sea. In a pulsating, sweaty club, fuelled by ecstasy (she hopes that what the pills are) she finds herself in close body contact with him, a new man. And what a body, honed by his training as an elite athlete, his physical presence intoxicates her. Such one night stands you think, are not unusual for E but far from a quick shag in a student bedsit E finds herself living in a large Victorian villa in smart north London, thanks to his mum and dad, conveniently absent in the south of France. E hopes she has fallen on her feet this time but the fairy tale is over all too quickly and she resorts to old bad habits to relieve her broken heart.
Yellow gloopy mustard is a very English condiment. Unlike its sophisticated French cousin or the insipid American variety its burns when it goes down and it’s that heat which E needs to cut through her raw emotion, to flay herself in a religious ritual of self-flagellation for once more falling for a shit of a man.
Mustard isn’t a new story. Tales of rebellious yet vulnerable young women, bruising sexual encounters, callow men, difficult mothers – the shores of British, Irish and American literature, and now Netflix and BBC 3 are littered with shipwrecked heroines. Maybe each generation of young women (from Lydia Bennet to Fleabag herself) needs this story re-told, part cautionary tale part parable for their times. Sad that the narrative still rings true. O’Connor avoids the self-blame trap and just about steers her audience clear of thinking ‘silly thing’ about E, but I didn’t ‘t warm to E as a protagonist and although liking someone to spend 55 minutes with them isn’t necessary it does help if you feel some connection.
I also had a problem with the choice of profession for the nameless bozo who E falls for because I know a lot about the world of professional cycling and some of the detail O’Connor the writer provides didn’t ring true; in those moments I was jarred out of the intricately created world of E. If this is an autobiographical piece, apologies because then O’Connor will know best but it came across as a third hand, pasted on rather than woven into the fabric of the script.
And this is a beautifully written piece, a dense, rich text packed with clever metaphors which push the words off the page and into your brain to paint vivid pictures. Eva O’Connor is a powerful performer. Her staging is imaginative and intriguing and she successful occupies this large performance space with her words, presence and imaginative props.