Becky works in a café in Edinburgh. There’s a ghost and lots of types of milk, but no, J.K. Rowling did not write Harry Potter here. A collaboration between Sara MacGillivray and Phil Bartlett, last year’s winners of the Scottish Arts Club’s Bright Spark Award, this one-person show performed by Gillivray follows Becky on a journey to rediscover herself following a messy break-up. Chihuahua is a playful, beautifully performed hour, but a little confusing in its intentions.
A playful, beautifully performed hour, but a little confusing in its intentions.
The break-up itself does not play much of a role in the story, save for a motivation for Becky to leave Edinburgh. Instead, there is a seed planted at the beginning of the story about Becky reading Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, complaining that it’s a bit ‘dense’. There follows a narrative interspersed, and sometimes dominated, by extracts from The House of Mirth told from the perspective of its heroine, Lily, also played by Gillivray. The real performance highlight is the stunning emotional climax that these Wharton-based extracts build to, involving Lily’s final downfall, in which Gillivray becomes a picture of the catastrophic collapse of a human. No doubt Gillivray would make a tremendous Lily in a Wharton adaptation.
Gillivray flips seamlessly between her modern Scottish narrator and her 19th-century American narrator, embodying them both with full conviction. However, when constructing a play involving two narratives woven together, there is a fine line between creating stories that complement each other, and those that tread on the other’s toes. The passages of mock-Wharton are well-written, but against the excitement and frantic pace of the modern ‘Becky’ passages, they can seem, as Becky tells us, ‘dense’. Each narrative would work perfectly well alone, but when processing them together, I found it difficult to become immersed in either story, and, having prepared myself for an evening of modern heartbreak comedy with a Taylor Swift energy (this was the introductory music), the Wharton passages felt too much like advert breaks, during which it was too easy to lose focus.
The choice of positioning a modern story alongside a classic novel, which is being read by the protagonist is a strong one. The only link between Becky and Lily seems to be that they are two women struggling with their identities and love lives in some capacity, and that, in this imagined version of Wharton, Lily has a pet chihuahua. When the play compares Lily’s tragic descent with Becky’s largely comic story of travel, nights out, unwise teaching jobs and a brief love affair, the two stories and heroines do not quite seem to match up.
There is plenty of great writing and acting on display here, but I was left puzzled as to the play’s meaning. Had it just been the Becky story, it would be easier to accept it as a simple heartfelt story of one woman’s journey, but the pointed comparison of the two stories seems to demand that a point is being made, and I’m not sure what it is.