Review: A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing (Brevity Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 6 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Eimear McBride (adapted for the stage by Annie Ryan)
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Ella Prince
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Our destinies are written long before our flesh is are conceived. The unnamed girl in the story was born into an underprivileged Irish family, of a conservative Catholic town where ancient rules are upheld without question or suspicion. Women are allocated their place, but men occupy everything, including the female body. In Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, violations take the form of rape, physical but also mental, emotional and spiritual. The entirety of the girl’s adolescence is characterised by the abusive imposition of all surrounding characters, determined to prevent any sense of individual agency from developing. She is deemed an object, an empty vessel with which society can do whatever it wishes.

It is a problematic adaptation by Annie Ryan who retains the “stream of consciousness” form of McBride’s book. One actor is designated to play not only the girl, but also every significant personality of her microcosm. Conversations are brief and unanticipated, often leaving us confused about the identities of people being portrayed, although we might as well think of them all as one uniform perpetrator, considering the analogous way in which our protagonist is being defiled. Actor Ella Prince is unable to provide clarity in terms of detail from the difficult text, but her capacity for authenticity and focus are certainly impressive. It is an extremely powerful presence that she brings to the show, and the gravity of the play’s concerns are never compromised under Prince’s depictions. The traverse stage proves challenging, requiring half of the show to be performed with her back to the audience, which proves unsatisfactory for a production that relies so heavily on its star’s facial expressions.

There is however, very fine design work being accomplished here. Isabel Hudson’s sophisticated set makes for a morbid but dramatic evocation of ideas around burial and death. Lights by Veronique Bennett are surprisingly dynamic, whilst administering a relentless austerity that is crucial to the play’s very specific tone. Chilling sounds created by Clemmie Williams ensure that we never deviate from the mournful devastation being analysed.

The girl is defiant, aggressively so, but she holds no power. We watch as she is put through a progression of torment, wondering if a person like this could ever grow into something whole. In places where freedom exists, we can imagine individuals flourishing, beyond the bounds of inevitable social restrictions. We want to believe that each human bears potential that is unique and good, and opportunities are available where against all odds, people can create the best out of their embryonic selves. This may or may not be true, but where there is no freedom, the only certainty is the unremitted spawning of deformed lives.

www.brevitytheatre.com.au