Feeling unfeeling

18 April 2019


Do I owe this play anything? An emotional response? I’m not going to give it.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing asks a lot of its audience. Obviously. The novel on which this play is based is deeply challenging and intense. The thing with reading is – it’s more controllable. It’s also more intimate (again, obviously). I love stream-of-consciousness texts because you see with that character’s eyes and you experience their manipulation of narrative. Onstage, first person means you see another body speak those experiences. So reading takes you closer, but you can also stop it. Fold the page down and go away and come back.

Performances are live. They are not, for the audience, stoppable. I couldn’t go away and come back to Girl... To be fair I didn’t want to; not that I actively wanted to stay, I just didn’t actively want to leave.

This production seemed to want to tap into emotional recesses because its subject matter is so painful and dark and...

Sexual violence. Violence by yourself against yourself. Sex. Violence.

It’s themes that...That I have no interest in allowing to reach me.

So I don’t really have any feelings about A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.

I could talk about the design. That was good. NNT do a great job of shrinking the space down so it can be filled by Kate O’Gorman as the girl – who does a wonderful job. The rubber crumb covering the stage is a throwback to the 2014-2016 Corn Exchange production, except NNT use a whole lot more. It adds a new and interesting (literal) texture to the piece and very much grounded the girl in her rural setting. I did spend a lot of time watching her bury her feet in the crumbs. Later in the piece, the lightbulbs and haze create some arresting visuals. There were moments, when the girl was lying in the forest and when she was looking up at the lake above her, which were purely beautiful.

During A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, being sat in the inner ring of white dinner chairs made me conscious of perhaps being part of the spectacle. If I’d sat in one of the traditional traverse seats, I certainly would’ve been looking at those audience members for their responses. I’m not sure what this added to the performance. Did it distract from the girl? Or did it give the girl more to feed on from the audience? An empty family environment around her would have spoken volumes.

I also felt curiously disconnected from the play because it was narrated, without other interjected voices, entirely by the girl. Hear me out: McBride’s novel raises questions of agency and powerlessness because so much is done to the girl. In performance, when the girl delivers all lines and impersonates everyone, she inherently always has a measure of control over the situation. I’d have been interested to see a production which experimented with sound, with the voices of her mother, brother, and uncle. Would it have made her feel more or less isolated?

@noffmag / [email protected]

Image credit: Beatrice Debney