DramaReviewSouth West

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Writer: Eimear McBride (adapted by Annie Ryan)
Director: Annie Ryan
Reviewer: Jaclyn Martin


When Eimear McBride, author of the original novel, opened up the drawer and saw her manuscript still there, still rejected and unpublished, little did she suspect how far it would go just a few years later.

After finally getting the release it deserved in 2013, the novel won many awards, including the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and was adapted for the stage by Annie Ryan shortly after that. It had its theatrical debut at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2014 to rave reviews, followed by an equally successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.

The story follows a young Irish Catholic girl from womb to early adulthood through a stream of consciousness from the protagonist.

McBride said, of the novel, that she wanted the reader to experience the story from the inside out, instead of the opposite which is the norm. This certainly translated well to the stage. It was as if we were part of her subconscious; the setting, soundscape and dialogue all felt dreamlike and disjointed. Like sepia snapshots, telling parts of the story but also letting us piece together the things that are unsaid.

The set, designed by Lian Bell is simple in execution, yet complex in meaning. It is our first impression of the production. A narrow stage is covered with a thin layer of soil seeming to represent both the rawness of the material, but also how the protagonist feels internally. She mentions dirt and soil several times throughout the production – could this be a representation of her Catholic guilt? At times throughout the play, in the dark, difficult moments, the smell of the soil becomes pungent. These dark parts of the tale are made starker still, with the help of a haunting hum of a soundscape, designed by Mel Mercier, that creates a rumbling tension in the gut.

Aoife Duffin does a marvellous job of keeping us captivated single-handedly for 80 minutes, slipping seamlessly from character to character, making the empty stage feel full and bustling, before pulling it sharply back in, reminding us that she is indeed very alone. She can equally portray the humour of one moment to the darkness of the next. As she sits in a pool of light, tears and mucus streaming down her face with unrelenting sorrow, she reveals herself as an actress who isn’t afraid to commit to the moment.

McBride has said that she considers the English language to be a “blunt tool” and this production with its poetic phrasing and interesting formulation of fragmented wording is a testament to what one can portray outside of conventional communication. The downside is it’s not always easy to follow, particularly if unfamiliar with the Irish accent and idiom.

The girl is dressed in pyjamas, and side-lighting, usually used in dance, highlights harsh, unnatural angles and creates deep shadow. Combine this with the fragmented storytelling and jumping timeline, and one is reminded of the landscape of a dream. This ties in with the idea of us, as an audience, being one with her subconscious, trying to make sense of her life, along with her. Is this whole production that final reflection on her life in that last breath?

In an hour and a half we experience a whole life – the trauma, the loss and the repression which is consequently exhausting, but ultimately rewarding giving us an insight into a life outside of our own, in a way that puts us firmly in her head. This is not a tale of redemption and doesn’t come to a neat conclusion. We never manage to make sense of all that has happened, but isn’t that the point?

A challenging production in both form and content that’ll keep you thinking long after you leave the theatre.

Runs until 2 April 2016 | Image:Fiona Morgan

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