A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is definitely not an easy watch, though ‘listen’ might be a better description, as Aoife Duffin delivers a highly unsettling stream-of-consciousness monologue about the titular Girl’s life, suffering and eventual suicide. Annie Ryan’s adaptation of Eimar McBride’s novel is incredibly bleak and disturbing to experience whilst providing an excellent insight into a fractured and depressed mind.

Objectively this is a wonderful marriage of text, performance and design that confronts us with the bleak reality of depression.

Aoife Duffin is a tiny figure on the vast Traverse 1 stage, enveloped in darkness with only a single pool of light that serves to suggest everything from a womb as the Girl remembers her infancy, before turning into a void for her subconscious and then the sea in which she drowns, lost to the world. In this abyss Ryan’s text comes into its own, as Duffin demonstrates the musical rhythm to the Girl’s stream-of-consciousness as ideas are left unfinished, memories resurface and she captivatingly evokes a wide range of characters with little more than a slight change in tone or posture.

There’s no denying that Duffin delivers a powerhouse performance, but some aspects of the production left me feeling cold. The Girl describes everything from sex and kissing to drowning in such an alien way that it may be possible to empathise but it’s difficult for the audience to truly understand what is going through her mind. The addition of the proscenium arch reflects this, giving us the feeling of watching the Girl from a distance; as she drowns, she seems like an exhibit in some alien aquarium rather than an actual person that we can relate to, and the effect is utterly hypnotic yet disconcerting.

Objectively this is a wonderful marriage of text, performance and design that confronts us with the bleak reality of depression, but the alienating techniques employed in the production means that it’s easy to appreciate Duffin’s virtuoso performance but hard to be swept away with emotion. Considering, though, the context of a show about suicidal depression and loss of identity, this could actually be viewed as a success.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

The Corn Exchange, makers of festival hits Man of Valour and Freefall, returns to the Traverse with this astonishing portrayal of an Irish girl trying to make sense of her fractured childhood. Rebellious and unrelenting, Aoife Duffin performs with an urgency and honesty that is electrifying. 'One of the best adaptations of a novel you are likely to see' ***** (Sunday Times). 'Aoife Duffin’s powerhouse performance is a festival triumph' ***** - the Observer's Top Ten Performances of 2014. ***** (Guardian). Adapted for the stage and directed by Annie Ryan.

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