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
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.