Writer: Eva O’Connor
Director: Hildegard Ryan
Eva O’Connor’s burning portrayal of heartbreak makes a digital return to this year’s Summerhall Festival where her 2019 show Mustard was first performed, although this version was filmed during the Dublin Fringe in 2020. Using an unreliable narrator immersed in the aftermath of a breakup, O’Connor’s show explores the obsessive, self-harming nature of relationships and their effects on a young woman’s mental health.
Eva meets ‘The Cyclist’ at a sweaty club night in London and forms an instant connection with the professional sportsman. After a few delirious weeks together during which Eva moves in, The Cyclist’s training commitments and prolonged absences start to unbalance Eva who smothers herself in mustard as a form of painful release. But when he abruptly ends the relationship, the real upset begins.
O’Connor expressively and vividly excavates the conflicting emotional states within romantic relationships that can boost self-esteem temporarily before brutally undermining it. In two places she creates a ticking clock within the story which gives Mustard its momentum, first by spooling back from a present-day reunion between Eva and The Cyclist to discover what brought them back together and secondly within the original memory as the audience anticipates a messy end to their original connection.
The highly descriptive nature of the monologue with its detailed recreation of place and time, anticipates the compulsive and neurotic aspects of Eva’s personality that O’Connor presents with a brutal and unfiltered honesty. The ‘self-destruct’ mode she was in on the night she met The Cyclist along with the growing bitterness and fury with which she describes his slow rejection of her and preference for his sport are unsparing if not unsympathetic in their presentation of Eva’s declining mental health and growing reliance on self-harm.
The show lags during the final third after a return to Ireland and further attempts to control her mustard-bathing need, and while Eva’s condition is never treated with flippancy, the meddling community and her bewildered mother never feel as keenly drawn as the semi-absence of The Cyclist or Eva’s own internal conflicts. It makes for a rather flat penultimate chapter with little activity to drive the drama while we wait for O’Connor to return to the present-day and Eva’s longed-for reunion.
Presented on a simple set with a handful of condiments and an inflatable paddling pool, it is clear that O’Connor is performing her own work, knowing when to relish the language she has carefully selected to enhance Eva’s changing emotions. ‘I learn him like a language I was thirsty for’ she exclaims and it sets the tone for a piece filled with descriptive passages that spring to life with the aid of just a few props and O’Connor’s meaningful delivery.
Mustard is a play in which words matter and director Hildegard Ryan never detracts from this, filming with a couple of cameras that offer a simple mix of wider shots and close-ups. While the story itself loses a little momentum, how O’Connor takes the audience into Eva’s ‘palace of angst’ is particularly well achieved, painting a picture of loneliness and the despair of rejection that earns its second Summerhall run.
Runs until 22 August 2021 | Image: Contributed