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 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.


Mustard
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.

Here the 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 self-harm.

She also structures the narrative well, so what could have been a shapeless string of events has a strong dramatic rhythm and forward movement.

And, with 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 off.

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.

Moments that 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.

Even the 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.

Gerald Berkowitz



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Review of  Mustard - Fishamble 2021