A Girl is a Half-formed Thing at the Samuel Beckett Theatre – Review

A girl theatreIf you are ever visiting Dublin, autumn is the time to be here.  Over a period of three months the city hosts two theatre festivals, a culture night, oktoberfest and a book festival not to mention that the season sees the start of a multitude of workshops on writing, acting, directing you name it.  For cultural types, the Dublin Theatre Festival is one of the highlights in the calendar.

I was lucky enough to attend the opening night of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, adapted for the stage by the Corn Exchange Theatre Company from Eimear McBride’s prize-winning novel. The story follows the inner narrative of a young girl from pre-birth to twenty.  It follows her relationship with her handicapped brother and her coming of age in surroundings filled with flawed adults and a mother who, for all intents and purposes, is unable to fully cope with the lemons life has given her.

All the characters in the novel are played by one actor (Aoife Duffin).  This theatrical tool has become commonplace in recent years but is a difficult feat for an actor to pull off successfully.  In the wrong hands, characters are lost and plot-lines missed. Here, however, the technique is skillfully employed, with Duffin using the smallest changes in physical and vocal movements to switch between characters. It must have been tempting for director (Ann Ryan) and Duffin to portray the many adults in the girl’s life as villains but they successfully resist this urge and portray the characters as flawed human beings making poor choices in difficult situations with catastrophic consequences. The unnamed girl in particular is played with great sensitivity – she is frequently victimised but never victim.

A girl with coffee

A lot must be said for the use of language in the play.  The style of the novel is faithfully reproduced, McBride’s disjointed prose being an ideal bedfellow for the stage.  If McBride was channelling Joyce in the creation of her novel, Ryan/Duffin are clearly summoning Beckett. Duffin makes the lyricism of the novel her own and demonstrates a virtuosity in masterfully handling the representation of both ‘difficult’ language and multiple characters. Not once is the narrative lost to stylistic devices.

The Corn Exchange production’s light, sound and set designs are minimal, beautiful and perfectly adapted to the narrative. Few bells and whistles are required and the simplicity of the design allows the language to shine through. Changes in light and sound are barely imperceptible but effectively support Duffin in illustrating where and when the narrative changes in locations or tone.

I went along to this play mostly out of curiosity.  Avid readers are often disappointed with the numerous film adaptations of famous works (at the time of writing there are at least four movies adapted from novels in the cinemas – A Most Wanted Man, The Giver, Before I Go to Sleep, and A Walk Amongst the Tombstones).  Theatrical adaptations of successful novels are a rarer breed and I was interested to see how it might work.  I was not disappointed.  Indeed while Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed thing is a beautiful piece of prose that never feels like it is trying to be artistic or ‘edgy’, I dare to say that, as a play it works even better.

Coming up next week – Ganesh versus the Third Reich @ the O’Reilly Theatre.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing runs as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival at the Samuel Beckett Theatre from the 25th September to 5th October.  Tickets can be purchased from the DTF website.  For more information about the play visit the Corn Exchange’s website.

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