Sarah Lafferty was very impressed by the Ireland 2016 centenary programme performance of A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing at the Young Vic
The Ireland 2016 centenary programme is promoting Irish artists throughout the world, and their first project in this country is a stage adaptation of Eimear McBride’s multi-award winning novel A Girl is a Halfformed Thing.
In 2014, Dublin’s Corn Exchange theatre company premièred the play at the Samuel Beckett Centre and now they’ve found it a new home at the Young Vic’s Maria theatre.
This is a perfectly intimate venue for such an intense story about a traumatised girl who battles her own sexual and emotional insecurities, while trying to survive in an unforgiving world.
At the helm, Annie Ryan from Chicago who founded the Corn Exchange theatre company in Dublin, shows tremendous skill in adapting such a literary novel into an exceptional piece of theatre. She told me: “I wouldn’t usually set out to do a play with so much trauma in it” but her vision to use a single actress to play all the roles allows us to experience this girl’s journey in a deeply emotional way.
The book itself is written in a fragmented style, so to craft this complex story into an hour and twenty minutes of pristine theatre using a bare stage, five horizontal light tubes and a girl dressed in pyjamas is a phenomenal feat.
A massive amount of credit must go to sole actress Aoife Duffin from Kerry who has been in Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did and Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy.
Duffin’s performance is amazing because she is so believable playing her damaged brother, her religious mother, the wild friend from Dublin 4, an abusive uncle or a snobby aunt. In one scene where she and her uncle are in a car, Duffin uses different voices and her physicality to switch between characters, while the way she mimics her uncle driving by subtly moving her hand from an imaginary steering wheel onto her lap is so effective.
After the play I asked her how she maintained such intensity for all these different characters. She replied: “I was trying to be in the moment. Now I feel relieved.”
Eimear McBride’s novel has won numerous awards and is considered to be one of the most important novels in contemporary Irish Fiction, so it’s no surprise that this production was a big night for the Irish community in London. Fiona Shaw from Cork who is perhaps most widely known for her role as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films and can soon be seen in Martin Dwan’s Seven Women told me her thoughts on the play.
“You can get a sense of the whole world behind it and the vulnerability of these girls,” she said. Dubliner Domhnall Gleeson who stars alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, with Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn and is a lead baddie in the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was also in the audience.
He spoke about his admiration for Aoife Duffin: “It’s incredible how she keeps up that performance night after night,” he said.
Anyone who has read the book will almost certainly be pleased with this imaginative adaptation.
The director Annie Ryan has taken complete ownership of this material by turning a dark traumatic story into an entertaining emotional experience. When I asked her how she was able to bring this show to London, she replied: “It took ten years for me to get to this point.” It’s safe to say that her exquisite craft is everpresent in every moment.
• A Girl is a Half-formed Thing runs in The Young Vic until March 26th