"I kind of want to die – but I’d really like to get into publishing, too," says Billie (performed by Grainne Dromgoole), as she explains the story of her first real love.
Refreshingly frank about sex between the unknowing
Baby, What Blessings is a one-person account of intimacy, in which memories are as much a source of torment, as they are a form of reprise.
Siofra Dromgoole’s script, delivered by the Three Sisters creative team, is a touching and unflinching foray into the mistakes Billie made whilst dating Amal. Only in postscript does Billie understand that most of her actions exacerbated a delicate universe that Amal was already aware of – the politics of being the only black man in a white space. Of being a black man with a white girlfriend, and the white girlfriend snever realising what that means. Particularly of what impact it can have in the ugly economy of social groups, university award evenings, and dinners with mum and dad.
Billie cannibalises herself as she tries to place her experiences in an order that makes them palatable – or at least, acceptable.
Three Sisters present Billie’s naivety without condemning the naïve. Imy Wyatt Corner’s direction, with associate direction from Cara Dromgoole, boldy confronts the awkwardness of not getting politics ‘right’ on the first try. Her direction of the space and of the story is pronounced. Details emerge, many of them uncomfortable, and they are given time to settle.
Siofra Dromgoole’s script is disarming. It is refreshingly frank about sex between the unknowing, and it doesn’t flinch when it positions Billie as still learning the ‘rules’ of the politics of blackness and whiteness. The writing in Baby, What Blessings is careful and nuanced. As Billie recalls her relationship with Amal, we can see where there are gaps – where Billie’s will for a relationship with Amal sketches in commitments that were maybe never there, or at least, never reciprocated. This is young love, done by adults, and Dromgoole understands how acts of clumsy affection can in their own way be dangerous.
Although Billie’s monologue sometimes loops in on itself, it is never meandering. There is a key distinction here – sometimes a one person play can feel a little too precise. They can feel written. But Grainne Dromgoole’s depiction of Billie neatly captures the problem of still not entirely having the right words. That isn’t to say Billie does not tell her story – it means that moments of total clarity are isolated; often they are buried beneath mounds of understatement and this makes their exhumation all the more affecting when they happen. Grainne Dromgoole delivers a frank and disarming performance, which seems to exist in the three minutes before you go to sleep – that moment where the things you should have said to people in your past become their own planetary realities.
Billie exists in a non-space. Billy Metcalfe’s design puts Billie in front of a red vista of clouds, like a well-meaning colouring book. Baby, What Blessings is set in a dreamscape. Yes, we see moments in her own life told as if they are in the present – and yet the story seems so entrenched in the deep past it feels prehistoric. One of the play’s tender realities is that Billie has clearly been trying to ‘get this right’ time and time again. Each attempt to do so, in a strange way, condemns Amal’s memory further into the relegated tense of the past.
Baby What Blessings is a tender story, hinging around the problem of what happens when a relationship becomes past-tense, rather than present. It is a secret space where the things that you could have said, become the things that comfortingly were said – just far too late to change the original sequence. Moving, original, and decisive theatre.