A girl appears on a blank stage in a white shirt and jeans and with a flower clip pinning back one side of her hair. This girl is Andrea (Gemma Whelan) and my goodness is she going to take you on a rollercoaster in the next seventy-five minutes. Hold on tight.
Initially, Andrea appears not to know what to say, silent, hesitant and nervously struggling to form words to say but once she begins she rattles through her lengthy monologue as though she’s afraid of what will happen if she stops. Powering through anecdotes about wasps, her singing voice, her mother, an abusive lover, and falling in love with an amputated soldier in a vegetative state at a hospital, Whelan carries the entire performance on her shoulders, without props, set, sound or lighting changes. This production rides solely on the quality of the writing and acting, which luckily in both cases is exceptionally high.
Andrea’s progresses in the play from telling her stories with a childlike alacrity and naivety to an anxiety fuelled panic attack and breakdown, sandwiching funny moments, explosions of rage and self-conscious rabbit trails. Whelan pulls off entertaining characterisations of characters within her stories, such as her mother and Mrs Vi (her landlady/grandmother), and interesting moments of physicalisation of her panic attacks, including an extremely disturbing scene in which she has a fit.
Andrea’s anxiety evolves from eager nervousness, to paranoid panic and finally to complete nervous breakdown; her response to questions or comments she imagines the audience have said, which at first evokes laughter from the audience gradually becomes more and more aggressive and unhinged. Whelan is thoroughly convincing and captivating from start to finish, emotionally credible, humorous, with erratic mannerisms she carries off the seemingly OCD manic-depressive Andrea with flawless believability. Although the second half becomes intense almost to the point of being unbearable and appropriately so, Whelan’s performance is nothing short of captivating. Be mentally prepared to witness a thorough breakdown and experience every moment Andrea describes right along with her.