Squirm

The toilet, which dominates the floor space of this production, is essential to the performance of Squirm. Rory vomits into it seven times, initially as the consequence of a night of overindulgence, and later as a physical expression of trying to rid himself of stomach-churning guilt. Rory has a problem.

No matter how distasteful the subject matter might be, neither the script nor the performance managed to make me squirm.

Entering in just his underwear and clearly very hungover, Rory briefly attempts to recall the events of the previous night before throwing up for the first time. He wants to die, not because he feels rough, but because killing himself might be the only way to relieve his condition. For the duration of the monologueNathaniel Fairnington takes us inside the mind of Rory, aged 25, as he wrestles with his past in an imagined dialogue with his ex-girlfriend, the only person he feels he can talk to and who might understand him. Of course, as a further denial of reality, she is not there.

The disheveled empty beer crates around the floor space, which serve as platforms and seats to create multiple locations for various encounters, also serve to reflect the mess his mind is in. Similarly, the confined floor space contributes to the intensity of his ramblings and reflects his mental entrapment.

The fifteen year old girl, with whom Rory had an affair lasting several years, looked a lot older when he picked her up in a bar. As did the fourteen year old he seduced last night: the act that provoked his present outburst of self-disgust. She had assured him that she would soon be fifteen, so he can’t even find comfort in ignorance. As the self-loathing continues, he repeatedly says that he is a good person who just fell in love with the wrong girl. He then goes on to indulge himself in lustful recollections or imaginings of the girls’ youthfulness, vulnerability and virginity and the fact he had them in his clutches. Suddenly the whole business makes him squirm as he confronts the reality of his predicament. Is he a paedophile, a word that is never mentioned, or does he just happen to end up with girls below the age of consent? Surely not, for even when he knows their age, it doesn't stop him. He still allows his sexual desires to overrule his better judgement.

Nathaniel Fairnington navigates his way through Serafina Cusack’s often tangled script with confidence, passion and measured pace. There are plenty of intense, soul-searching lows but few highs to provide dramatic contrast. The peaks and troughs necessary to maintain attention are lacking; a consequence of the writing rather than the actor.

No matter how distasteful the subject matter might be, neither the script nor the performance managed to make me squirm. The fact that Rory is a good-looking young man certainly challenges the old pervert stereotype of a paedophile and broadens awareness of the extent of the issue. That the age of consent is something that matters is Rory’s ultimate realisation. Whether is will change his behaviour is another matter entirely.

Part of the issue with Squirm seems to be in choosing monologue as the dramatic form. Rory’s inner turmoil is painful yet somewhat tedious. If one of his girls could have appeared with her story there would be an opportunity to see things from another perspective. It would introduce some dramatic relief and provide more ammunition for loathing the actions of this man, whom one can believe really is a good person, as he repeatedly reminds us.

Full credit should go to Serafina Cusack, Appetite Theatre and Nathaniel Fairnington for taking on this difficult and rarely-tackled subject, and for presenting it at the Festival Fringe. You might very well want to see if it is enough to make you squirm.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Rory is 25 years old now, and he’s f*cked up. This dynamic monologue from writer Serafina Cusack invites the audience to witness the intimate struggle inside the mind of a young man who is discovering what both the age of consent and his own morality really mean. Follow Rory as he tries to make sense of what has happened by muddling through his past choices that always seemed to leave him on the edge of okay.