Myra’s Story – Trafalgar Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer and Director: Brian Foster

Raising awareness of homelessness is without doubt a worthy cause. But do worthy causes make good drama?

Brian Foster’s Myra’s Story is a single-hander about a homeless Dublin street drinker. The piece pre-empts critical discussion by having the actor, Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley, make a heartfelt plea at the end of the show for us to support homeless charities: charity workers will be waiting in the foyer to accept our contributions.

Myra’s Story is well-intentioned but its tone is constantly uneven. The piece requires Myra to switch back and forth from a comic persona to the protagonist of that evergreen Irish genre, the misery memoir. A journey from comedy to tragedy is possible: who can forget Marie Jones’ highly successful 1996 drama Stones in His Pockets? But Myra’s Story, alas, is not in this league.

Myra can certainly make us laugh, Hewitt-Twamley delivering Foster’s comic one-liners in style. But it will come as little surprise that we learn Myra lost her mother when young (but falling off a Christmas tree – really?) and that her father is an alcoholic. Hewitt-Twamley does well enough with a whole range of different voices – she is particularly good doing deep masculine ones. But the characters she is given to impersonate all tend to broad caricature. She only has two friends, both neighbours, one a chain-smoking cynic, the other a ditsy woman always on the take. Particularly egregious are the supposedly laughable couple met in the doctor’s waiting room, who are presented as one step away from nineteenth-century circus freaks.

Another issue is that the plot requires Myra to remain totally in control of her narrative, despite supposedly being wrecked by alcohol. She only starts to mumble inarticulately right at the end of the play. In passing it should be noted that there was an issue of sound levels on this opening night, so that even in the stalls it was hard to hear everything Hewitt-Twamley was saying.

Myra’s Story tries too hard to manipulate us emotionally. We know, of course, that some tragedy has occurred which has resulted in Myra’s life on the streets. But this central narrative is both obvious and psychologically unconvincing. We can accept that Myra, married to Tommy at 16, might not be familiar with the signs of pregnancy, for instance. But then we learn that she’s already had two miscarriages. The subsequent acting out of childbirth on stage just seems clumsy. And the playwright’s reference to the new baby having ‘sky-blue eyes’ suggests it’s rather too long since he’s seen one close to.

If this seems an unnecessarily picky point, it’s worth remembering how skilled playwrights can get huge emotional charge out of small details. Alan Bennet’s Dora in A Cream Cracker Under the Settee, remembers her stillborn child being wrapped in newspaper by the midwife ‘as if he were dirty’. And suddenly we understand what underlies her obsession with keeping the house clean, an obsession which has clearly stifled her marriage. More recently, the Irish-language film The Quiet Girl, based on Claire Keegan’s story ‘Foster’, uses only the most delicate of details to suggest suppressed emotion. At one point it’s simply a proffered biscuit that delivers intense, unremarked-upon joy.

Runs until 18 October 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Worthy but unconvincing

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