Writer: Christine Mackie
Director: Kayleigh Hawkins
Intergenerational trauma is something that culture rarely explores and while the experience of war, displacement, genocide and physical or mental abuse have been dramatised and the effects on the individual who experiences them, the wider consequences for family, friends and colleagues is rarely considered. This makes Christine Mackie’s 50-minute play for paus.tv an interesting experiment in form and storytelling.
Annie has broken up with her boyfriend Jim after a particularly difficult row and now she is in the park waiting for something to happen. With family troubles hanging over them both, Annie recounts a stinging encounter with his parents that reveals something about herself. A year later in therapy Annie begins to unravel the past, connecting her current life with her father’s first-hand experience of suffering.
The notion that guilt can be ‘gifted’ to subsequent generations and that they bear a form of responsibility is something that Mackie elaborates quite late in Best Girl, although the strands subtly run through her two-scene structure from the start and the writer showcases the ways in which parental behaviour, expectations and pain can be inherited by their children – which can often be both inexplicable and off limits to outsiders.
In both scenes, Mackie places Annie in a contemporary moment (2018 and then 2019) but uses her narrative to reflect back on various events across her lifetime that have led to her present crisis. In the first, this is her relationship with Jim, the sweet discovery of his hidden musical gifts and, crucially, a disrupted bond with his parents that she exacerbates by prying into a family secret. That the audience is left to wonder whether the seemingly warm and open Annie is really an unreliable narrator is one of Best Girl’s most interesting features in this first section, although it is not a possibility that is fully developed.
In the second scene, Mackie employs the same technique, letting the audience piece together the new timeframe, location and Annie’s circumstances from her conversation, with many of the details revealed in asides and throw-away remarks. But here, Annie reflects on her own childhood in more detail and undergoes a process of reconciliation and acceptance that is sensitively written.
The slightly different focus in the two parts of Best Girl don’t fit together as well as they could leaving lots of unanswered questions about Annie’s connections with peripheral characters including her mother and elder brother with whom she has no contact in the 2018 section while Jim notes her personality is either ‘scenes or silence’ but neither of these themes is expanded.
As Annie, Lois Mackie has a strong screen presence, and while the decision has been taken to perform the piece to an absent theatre audience instead of to camera, the viewer is instantly invested in her story thanks to Mackie’s charismatic performance. That Annie is clearly a talker comes across well and Mackie makes clear that once she has something in her mind it has to be said regardless of the consequences.
This is about the right running time for a monologue and Director Kayleigh Hawkins ensures the pace never slackens even with the minimal props and sound effects to suggest a park and a waiting room. Just a stronger connection between the two halves of the story would make Best Girl sharper, either aligning Annie’s relationships with Jim and her father more clearly or interrogating her own dependability as a narrator. But in support of Young Minds Charity and First Light Trust, Annie is a great character and opening up conversations about secondary trauma is extremely valuable.
Runs here on 17 April 2017