Collapsible – Bush Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Margaret Perry

Director: Thomas Martin

Essie is adrift. She has walked out of one job, and struggles with interviews for another. Her relatives try and connect with her, without much luck. Except, in a sliver of self-awareness, Essie describes herself as a collapsible chair; she can be solid one minute, and then feel herself fold into nothing in an instant.

The precarious nature of Essie’s psyche is reflected in Alison Neighbour’s design, which perches actor Breffni Holahan midair on a chunk of decaying concrete. It is the perfect visual metaphor: adrift, broken, crumbling, but with a solidity at its core.

And that is mirrored in Holahan’s performance. As Essie encounters her sister and her “punchable” boyfriend, or a variety of interviewers, Holahan crouches, kneels or sits, clouds of concrete dust stirred up as Essie’s layers fall away. At times, she says she feels she is “a skin-bag full of stones”, and as the stones build inside her the sense of what it’s like to live with depression feels tangible.

It’s a mesmeric performance, often hilarious and frequently hard-hitting. As a single-act monologue of a woman struggling with her own mental health issues, comparisons with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’sFleabagare not unwarranted, but Perry’s writing and Holahan’s embodiment of the role markCollapsibleout on its own terms.

In the play’s closing minutes, Perry constructs a denouement that is optimistic without being pat, that suggests that one’s descent from feeling stable is a path that others have trod, and maybe are treading along with us — and that means that help is never far away if we take the care to look.

Continues until 14 March 2020

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Mesmeric monologue

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