The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Fishamble and Edinburgh Fringe August 2021
There is more
to Eva O'Connor's one-hour monologue than this, but on one level it is a
study in the psychology of self-harming, the process some deeply unhappy
people resort to of cutting or otherwise hurting themselves because
physical pain somehow relieves their mental and emotional pain.
speaker is a young woman from a small Irish town living in London, and
the masochism of choice is smearing her body with mustard. (Whether that
is to be taken literally or as a metaphor for some other form of
self-harm is unclear and ultimately unimportant.)
The woman has a
past history of resorting to mustard, and when an intense love affair
with a cold and abusive man goes sour, she has a major episode. Her
mother takes her back to Ireland, where a year of quiet ordinary life
slowly restores her emotional health.
And then the
man re-enters her life, bringing the threat of a relapse.
As a writer,
O'Connor gives the woman a remarkable degree of self-insight and the
ability to express herself evocatively, so the monologue is successful
in helping the non-addicted understand the appeal and psychology of
structures the narrative well, so what could have been a shapeless
string of events has a strong dramatic rhythm and forward movement.
director Hildegard Ryan, she creates some powerful stage imagery. The
actress does actually cover herself with mustard at the crisis moment
and then, in the course of describing the year of healing, slowly washes
It may seem odd
to suggest that a playwright might not be the best interpreter of her
own work. But, at least in this video recording made of a live
performance in 2020, Eva O'Connor the actor repeatedly comes just short
of doing full justice to Eva O'Connor the writer.
should have strong dramatic power, like the final crisis when we don't
know if she will relapse, are brushed by too quickly, and potentially
strong poetic and narrative images, like the healing power of water,
want more emphasis.
striking visual picture of the actress washing off the mustard as she
speaks of returning to mental balance is partly hidden behind a
clothesline of soiled washcloths.
None of these
staging and performance missteps damage the text, but they don't support
or enhance it as much as it deserves.
Mustard, which premiered at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, is being revived at the 2021 Fringe, with live performances supplemented by this online recording. Professionally made, it is technically excellent, except for occasional muddiness of sound resulting from the acoustics of the theatre.
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