In theatre, choices are critical.

Choice of actor. Choice of material. Choice of venue. Choice of style. Choice of interpretation. Every moment of every piece of live theatre turns on choices.

This is true, too, of audiences. They choose to attend the performance, choose how much they are willing to pay, choose their seats and, ultimately, choose whether to stay or leave before the curtain falls. (Okay, sometimes, such as at the Young Vic’s Maria Theatre, they can’t choose where they sit, but that’s another story, never mind…)

Everyone is entitled to their choice just as everyone is entitled to their opinion. Performers and theatre practitioners have no obligation other than to do the best work they can; audiences have no obligation other than to give a work their undivided attention for as long as possible.

For me, twenty minutes was all I could give to the endurance test that is Annie Ryan’s (adaptor and director) production of Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing, now playing at the Maria Theatre. It is a grim, tragedy scattered stream of consciousness; a one-actor 85 minute catalogue of oppression, mistreatment and despair.

It might make a wonderful Opera but it does not make for interesting or involving theatre.

The fault does not lie with the star: Aoife Duffin is both mercurial and mesmerising; detailed and definite; multi-faceted and single-purposed. Technically, there is nothing to fault – her accent, diction, sensibilities; all resonate with real skill and focused energy.

The book upon which the play is based is a difficult read. The reader must immerse her/himself into the world of the central character and imagine it for themselves. Part of the purpose of the book, and its James Joyce lineage, is to be uncompromising about the language and to make the reader work to comprehend. It is a rewarding read, but directly proportionate to the effort the reader applies to understanding and contemplating the text.

As Ryan admits in the Foreward in the programme/text for the play, McBride’s view of her work was:

“We’re inside of her head, so it is very important that we never see her.”

Quite.

Alas, invisibility is not one of Duffin’s gifts, although she does manage the quite remarkable feat of being translucent. Indeed, her performance is at its best when one closes one’s eyes and just listens. No doubt this would be an extraordinary radio play.

But theatrical endeavours always require a visual aspect. Here, the intrinsic nature of the piece cuts against that and, necessarily, Duffin’s choices are limited. As the visceral awfulness advances relentlessly, like a seaweed infused tidal influx, a sense of drowning is near unavoidable. And, it induces a similar response – the near to find fresh air.

Coming so closely on the heels of the much better conceived and directed Iphigenia in Splott, Ryan’s adaptation and conceit falls flat, tripped up in its own failure to come to grips with the text upon which it is based.

One star

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Stephen Collins
With years of experience on both sides of the curtain, Stephen Collins has worked as an actor, singer, director, producer and casting consultant, indulging his passion for live theatre. Occasionally a media lawyer, who has worked in-house for the likes of Channel 4 and The Sunday Times, he can usually be found in an audience. In 2014 and 2015, he was lead critic for Britishtheatre.com. He thinks the West End and London is the centre of the theatrical universe (sorry Broadway!), but fears it's not possible to see absolutely everything that’s on there. He doesn’t stop trying though. Cocktails help when it all gets too much.