Review: A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing

Walking into the Tobacco Factory Theatre space, we see a dimly lit stage with a gravel-like flooring.

This barren, empty space sets the scene perfectly; as what we are about to see is something so tragic and heart-wrenching that you feel completely hollow when you leave.

A Girl Is a Half Formed Thing is a 90 minute monologue, adapted from the novel by Eimear McBride which

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Aoife Duffin. Sourced from Bristol 24/7 website.

peers into the life of a poor Irish Catholic family. Already, you can probably gather that the story is far from jolly. With Irish stories such as The Magdalene Sisters which explores the corruptive Catholic Church and the complete disrespect for women as they are seen as sexual objects, (I unfortunately watched that film alone and was thus left in an emotional bottom-less pit of moroseness), you can guess what sort of direction this play will take.

Nonetheless, this monologue was flawlessly performed by Aoife Duffin, who captured our attention from the very beginning with her melodic Irish accent. She is plainly dressed; wearing only a baggy top and bottoms, which provides a neutral canvas for the various characters she performs.

Her physical ability to switch from one character to the next is incredible; you can practically see the scene unfold in front of you. We are moved seamlessly through this hard-hitting story, lulled by the beautifully poetic script written by Annie Ryan.

We never discover the girl’s name; which indicates the lack of feminine identity within this bubble of society; she truly is a half-formed thing. With a cold-hearted, god-fearing mother and a younger brother with cancer, the girl is shoved into the background, brought up in a household full of shame and hate.

By the age of 13, she is sexually abused by her uncle, which begins her sexual journey as a bleak and loveless downward spiral. She sees sex as a form of currency and self-harm; she is so accustomed to being treated as a sexual object, that she no longer sees herself as being anything else. When she discusses her various encounters with men, she speaks with a slow drawl, verbally communicating the way she is passed carelessly from man to man. Sex is an empty feeling for her; it means nothing.

The few sound effects throughout were simple, yet interesting. One sound that sticks in my mind in particular was something that sounded like rolling marbles, which made its way from one side of the theatre to the other, as if they were rolling around us. I believe this happened when her brother died, which to me indicates towards the saying ‘losing your marbles’; hinting towards the girl’s final tipping point.

Duffin’s performance is passionate and painful as she transforms into her little brother, fighting for his life, then her stern, hateful mother and then her weak, perverted uncle. You feel and see every emotion in every single character, and love and hate them all equally. This is what made this play so gritty; Duffin laid herself bare for a full 90 minutes, and all we could do was watch helplessly.

I must say that I got a little lost at the end. This is most likely because of the very challenging, emotional upheaval the play takes you through; by the end, you’re emotionally shattered.

Nonetheless, this was a one-woman play masterpiece. The spoken-word element to the script was not only engrossing, but emotionally charged, and Duffin was breath-taking. You could tell that she had put all of her energy into this piece.

This was a play that you wish you never had to see, but ultimately opens wounds and pushes boundaries.

Review: RSC Production of Wendy and Peter Pan

If I could sum up the RSC production of Wendy and Peter Pan in one word, it would be: Ingenious.

Playwright, Ella Hickson uproots the classic JM Barrie tale and forms it into something deeper and more relevant, yet still remains true to the context of the time.

One defining feature in Hickson’s version is that we begin with four Darling children instead of three. Tom is the fourth child who passes away at the beginning of the play, thus shattering the Darling household as they know it. Therefore, when Peter Pan arrives and mentions the ‘Lost Boys’ in Neverland, Wendy immediately jumps to the conclusion that Tom must be one of them; providing the story with a much stronger emotional pull than the promise of pirates and mermaids (although this is still what sways John and Michael!).

Another very strong feature to Hickson’s version is that arguably, this isn’t Peter’s story at all, it is Wendy’s. In JM Barrie’s novel, Wendy is predominantly shoved into the ‘motherly’

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Mariah Gale as Wendy. Sourced: westendtheatre.com

role and thus into the restraints of patriarchy, as seen when she is put safely into her ‘Wendy house’ when she arrives in Neverland. However, Hickson turns her into a powerful force to be reckoned with as she scoffs at the childishness of Peter and the other boys and hatches a plan of her own to find Tom. This is mirrored by Mrs Darling’s story as she breaks out of the family home to fight for her independence amongst the Suffragette movement.

Mariah Gale plays Wendy with ease, as she not only reveals her childlike innocence, but her more opinionated, strong and practical side. Gale was one of my favourite performers as I felt that she brought a different side to Wendy; she made her a real, flawed human being rather than the prim and proper young girl Wendy is so often portrayed as.

I appreciated the way women were brought to the forefront of this narrative. I really liked the way Hickson joined the female characters together to save the Lost Boys on The Jolly Roger. With Tigerlily’s (Mimi NDiweni) strength and resilience, Tinkerbell’s sassiness and wit (Charlotte Mills) and Wendy’s passion and confidence, we have the perfect team and truly see the different aspects of their personalities. In this story we see the girls as heroes, which I think we need to see a lot more of in theatre.

Another character who stood out from the start was Adam Gillen as the Cabin Boy on Captain Hook’s ship. I recognised him from his previous roles in television series Benidorm and Fresh Meat which prove his worth as a talented comedy actor. With his brilliant one-liners and slap-stick approach, he seemed to be a firm favourite amongst both children and adults alike. Another actor who had the same comic effect was Douggie McMeekin who played the Lost Boy, Curly. His comic timing was on point and he delivered his lines effortlessly, making his character the most defined out of the Lost Boys.

Of course, we always like a baddie – Captain Hook played by Darrell D’Silva lived up to all our expectations with his domineering presence, snarky comments and a pinch of wit for good measure. He was followed throughout by the ever-present crocodile, played by Arthur Kyeyune who delivered the part exceptionally; gliding across the stage with a hungry look in his eyes (truly terrifying!).

Another interesting aspect was the purpose of the shadows; Peter has six of them. They

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The Shadows carrying Peter Pan, played by Rhys Rusbatch. Sourced: Coventry Telegraph.

are used throughout to move the story along, attach and detach the actors’ harnesses and add a more physical-theatre feel to the production. I really liked the creative decision to include them in the play as they helped with both the practical and visual aspects.

The set was incredible – thanks to award-winning designer Colin Richmond. A lot of thought and effort had been put into both the design and construction. I was blown away when the Lost Boy’s underground den was revealed; the stage surface lifted, and underneath we see the Lost Boys playing and dancing in this very impressive wooden structure with scattered objects such as books, brooms, springs, a bath, a cooking pot, and a bed and chairs on varied levels. The boys hang off the structure and Tinkerbell lounges in her pink bed above. This set is the perfect encapsulation of childhood, as Richmond comments:

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The Lost Boy’s den. Sourced: sardinesmagazine.co.uk

“Their space represents the ideal child’s bedroom – it’s full of discarded things that are somehow important because they’ve been given a different emphasis, like playing restaurants with make-believe food when you’re a child.”

I could go on all day about this show, but I think I should leave it here as I don’t want to spoil it too much for you!

However, I will end by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this imaginative revision of Peter and Wendy. It challenged the original story and successfully captured the feminist, comical and magical moments of the tale. I felt like I had been transported to the Neverland I had always wanted to experience. Very well done to the writer, cast and crew for such an innovative production of a classic story!

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