EYES.TEETH.SOIL. –  Pleasance Theatre, London    

Reviewer: Jane Darcy 

Writer: Alan Flanagan

Director: Dan Hutton                                                                                                

A body lies in a bathtub in darkness. When the play starts, she leaps up. She is covered in soil. It is a powerful image, suggesting murder and illicit burial. She begins to tell us her story.

For the first half of EYES. TEETH. SOIL. Bláthin’s narrative is mesmerising. She is a young woman growing up on a family farm in Northern Ireland close to the border. Alan Flanagan’s story-telling is rich, strange and brutal. Bláthin, when she was only “coffin height”, watched her father castrate lambs with his teeth. “I murdered someone once,” she adds, almost casually.

There is laughter too. “We were playing IRA,” she says of her games in the forest with her siblings, Mary and little Tadgh. They have only a handful of friends, including the protestant Johnsons. But their innocent childhood will be clouded by a horrifying, supernatural incident.

Something strange happens to Bláithin when her periods start. Welts like cuts appear on her arms. She has the first intimation that she is gay and is taunted by Jane Johnson. Then accidents begin to happen to those around her. Her father wounds himself with a sickle. Liam, about to take her to their school’s formal, is seriously injured working the binding machine.

So far, so chilling. Hannah Mclean is never less than captivating as Bláithin, holding the audience spell bound as she slowly reveals her dark secrets. The staging is simple. Sound and lighting design, by Hattie North and Jenny Roxburgh respectively, create a sinister brooding atmosphere.

But as one terrifying incident follows another, the pace, far from intensifying, seems to slacken. There is simply too much to absorb: a highly disturbing scene in which Mary gives birth is paralleled with a shocking description of delivering a dead lamb by severing its head. Bláithin leaves Ireland to work in an abattoir in Liverpool. Alongside this there is a seemingly redemptive story line of the growing love between Bláithin and Jane Johnson. The play appears to be moving in a different direction. But there is more horror to come.

Playwright Alan Flanagan has a wealth of resonant ideas about borders and haunting guilt. His range of imagery is impressive: eyes, teeth and soil are all given sinister significance (just don’t google “teratoma” over breakfast). But it feels as if there is a full-length TV series struggling to burst out from the confines of this hour-long show. In the end the sheer volume of incidents threatens to swamp the dramatic integrity.

Runs until 7 August 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Compelling story-telling        

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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