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FringeReview UK 2020

Low Down

Directed by Vicky Featherstone and lit by Anna Watson, its Sound Design’s by David McSeveney. Assistant Director’s Izzy Rabey. Till February 15th.


Imagine Not I crossed with Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs. Kate O’Flynn’s virtuosic 45-minute birth-to-death monologue hurtles with the snapped-off lyricism you often see in Alistair McDowall, and here his all of it too owns a small corona of spookiness, just a tincture from the writer of Pomona and X.

Directed with clean-to-the-bone intimacy by Vicky Featherstone (Assistant Director Izzy Rabey) and lit with downward smoke effects in a column of fragile visibility by Anna Watson, there’s a sense we’re seeing one of those mythic auras. Sound design by David McSeveney creates a similar throb around the business of living.

O’Flynn in a matte-effect black suit is both movingly gawkish and stoically bleak at either end of her speed-read on a life. After the ‘rushing/rushing’ of birth, where O’Flynn’s linguistic virtuosity pitches to the Beckettian, we’re slowed only slightly to the sweet banality we’ve all been through: childhood, toilet training, packed lunches to school, playground friends and lack of them, a native asperity, later the size of other girls’ breasts; being driven up to uni by parents. McDowall and O’Flynn make it utterly compelling. It’d be difficult not to be riveted as half-decades flash by.

O’Flynn’s character is movingly realized. Her muted arc of childhood is dwelt on by McDowall: discovery of language with several litanic repeats. There’s a younger brother, sex (there’s a funny section on orgasm as word and deed, echoed much later), death ‘everyone dies’ the opposite pole of sex set up from the start is the more profound in its ordinariness. The bright northern girl who just keeps slightly underachieving, coping with early and tragic deaths, the film-making husband never cutting it, disappointment, her own daughter ’a baby… coming out of me’ in capitalised astonishment. In a blink – the narrative like Lungs accelerates at least for a while – driving that baby up to uni … her daughter’s daughter; a late happiness; then all those subtractions.

There’s a striking parallel with Michael Tippet’s 1977 Symphony No 4 ‘a birth-to-death piece’ which starts with rasps of breathing over the orchestra, ending the same way. It’s tempting and right to involve a palindromic sense of the way language seems the same inarticulated smear at either end.

McDowall’s piece is in itself constructed as an exploration of language as identity and ritual – repeating it gives you an evanescent solidity. And litanizing the same word over and over as this work does lends the rituals of life McDowall probes with his ‘Everyone dies’ speeded up into ‘everyonedies’ in a velocity of subsong.

O’Flynn has extended her range in this piece. Often given bright articulate roles, for instance magnificently in Anatomy of a Suicide, and last year’s The End of History, this miniature epic of Everywoman finds her profoundly moving as a kind of tabula rasa, a face whose identity is a guessed blur.

This is the most sheerly thrilling yet intimate piece MacDowall has written. A miniature classic of snatched meaning its staging too flashes by with shocking brevity. Catch it.