Catching fragments

22 April 2019

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing demands active concentration from its spectators, says Joseph Winer

In traditional narrative, it is crucial that the setup of the story is made clearly to the audience.

If you haven’t grounded them in the world of the play within the first twenty minutes or so, it’s going to be tricky to catch them up. This is more so the case for work which is, as in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, less of a straight-through narrative and more a collection of fragmented thoughts and anecdotes; a stream of consciousness which demands active concentration from its spectators.

Amy Crighton’s interpretation of the text plants the performer in a large circle of shredded rubber, resembling earth. Around the edges, a few spectators are sat on white chairs, the rest of us seated on either side of the traverse. Kate O’Gorman’s embodiment of Girl’s journey never gives itself to us. Rather, she finds herself wrapped within the centre of this world. We have to consciously choose to go on this journey with her. As an audience, we become less so another person for her to interact with but instead a figure with which she attempts to draw inside her stream of thoughts. She often looks towards the ground, resisting audience eye contact. We cannot merely sit back and hope the story will be told to us. This is a production which asks a lot of its spectators. In order for it to succeed, we must give ourselves entirely and become participants in the storytelling.

Thoughts jump so rapidly back and forth that I find myself catching fragments of text, which I struggle to piece together. We’re not offered the time to do so. In the show discussion, Crighton talked about speeding up the pace of the performance from its first showing. Whilst this succeeds in shaving off time, it makes the text even harder to grasp. Miguel Barrulas’s lighting design hangs flickering bulbs from above, flashing them in the rhythm of a heart-beat, taking us slowly into darkness as the story becomes more exhausted. As shoulders become heavy and heads begin to tilt, O’Gorman struggles to walk through the rubble. I become distracted by the interaction of her bare feet in the rubble. Her grey dress becomes dirty as she lies against the floor, the debris working its way into her hair. I too become exhausted. I feel the shattering of this person within me. Realising I have no hope of catching up with all the details, my brain begins to switch off and the atmosphere starts to put me to sleep. And I wish I could. I wish the rules of this performance space would let me close my eyes and drift off for a few minutes.

Struggling to even move, she reaches out her hand to reach for nothing. She falls to the ground at one point, her body landing almost weightlessly, and her voice begins to echo through a cleverly placed microphone. It fills the entire world; the performance space a vortex of her mind. A cloud of smoke just lingers in the air. She speaks of water, of cleanliness. She begs someone, maybe us, to "Brother me, clean me, I’m tired". She loses us at points, but somehow manages to hook us once again for those final moments. But there’s nothing we can do. I praise this production for its commitment to its choices, although I’m not sure such choices always achieve the desired effect.

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Phot credit: Beatrice Debney