A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Curve, Leicester

Adaptor and Director: Annie Ryan
Reviewer: Claire Going


There aren’t many productions that leave an audience speechless, but this is one of them. Maybe it is something about Eimear McBride’s use of language in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thingor the stark nakedness of Annie Ryan’s production choices, but there is no doubt that Aoife Duffin’s solo performance in this gutsy one-act play takes your breath away.

Told through the eyes of a girl, growing up in Ireland within a single parent family, McBride’s fast-moving stream of consciousness style of prose is deliberately fragmented and disorienting, but often poetic. With snatched impressions, half-phrases and disjointed images, Duffin delivers every line with an equal measure of passion and pain.

This is an often harrowing portrayal of the very Irish life story of a girl, from birth to the age of 20, and her brother who suffered from a brain tumour before she is born. She hears from within her mother’s womb that he has recovered, but that it will always be with him. Her brother is left with a scar on his head, and her mother is left by their father, who cannot cope.The account follows the girl’s lifeand is told always to her brother. There is the clear impression that the two of them are inextricably linked, and this is no more apparent than when his tumour returns. There is a definite malignancy running relentlessly through the entire play, as Duffin’s character suffers all kinds of sexual abuse that leave her hurting and send her in a downward spiral, with a distorted view of sex at an early age.

This is certainly a harrowing piece of theatre. Its raw and penetrating view of life in an Irish family delves deep into the nature of family, the Catholic faith, abuse, sickness and death. Ryan’s staging leaves nowhere for Duffin’s character to hide and we see her laid bare moment after moment as she relates her life in stark vacuity on stage.

The set is simple – a Brechtian-style open stage with a dirt floorand not a single prop used throughout. Duffin uses her body language and voice to convey every character and every emotion with exceptional skill. She is dressed simply and androgynously in check pyjama-style bottoms and a blue and grey jersey two-piece top – an equally appropriate representation of the brother as much as the girl. Over the course of the play, Duffin plays every character using simply a subtle change of stance and voice. Her masterful portrayal of staccato conversation between several characters is breathtaking, and the way she presents the abusive uncle is particularly chilling.

Ryan’s use of music, lighting and sound effects is perfectly done. From the small sound of a hospital monitor beepingto an almost imperceptible lowering of the lights, all the effects are so incredibly subtle as to not detract at all from Duffin’s performance, and yet work deftly to alter the atmosphere.

This is one of those productions that will stay with you, not only because of the idiosyncratic use of language and the heart-rending storyline but also because of Duffin’s astonishingly raw and naked delivery that sucks you into a world of sickness, rage, depravity and pain. Somehow, however, it also seems to enable you to tap into a real tenderness between two people whose lives and deaths are inexorably bound together.

Runs until 13 February 2016 and on tour | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

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