BY MARGARET PERRY
DIRECTED BY THOMAS MARTIN
PERFORMED BY BREFFNI HOLAHAN
BUSH THEATRE 30 NOV 2019 - UNTIL 14 MARCH 2020
REVIEW by SUSAN GRAY
When discussing contemporary Irish literature it’s a challenge to see how far you can get without mentioning Sally Rooney - 17 words, get me! But it is hard to understate the sea change and freshness that’s come into Irish writing since the mega success of Conversations With Friends in 2017. Suddenly Ireland can be presented without religion, without constant references to the past, a modern Western European country just like anywhere else.
Margaret Perry’s accomplished one woman play Collapsible continues this newly minted secular tradition. Essie, commandingly played by Breffni Holahan, is consoling her jobless, partnerless state by spending ‘a lot of time on the internet’. She lost her project management job at an unnamed blue chip, tech company, because she could no longer make sense of the words she was supposed to say. And she lost her partner Hayley for reasons unknown, but maybe wordless, destructive fury has something to do with it.
We learn all this from a sometimes cross legged, sometimes standing and sometime prostrate Essie, perched on a jagged concrete plinth. On the ground are the stones she says she finds in her mouth, at the most inopportune time, and more occasionally crushing down on her chest, preventing her from getting out of bed, and performing her once enviable job.
And the audience is trapped with her. What starts as a very warm, welcoming performance, as we share jokes about addictively time wasting quizzes on the internet, and the bullshit ‘strengths and weakness’ language that makes up job interviews, grows progressively darker and darker. Ironic takes on work jargon, and low key rivalry between siblings and friends, ratchets up into alienating envy and complete disconnection.
It’s a compelling portrayal of mental breakdown, and Holahan beautifully brings across Essie’s spiral of anger and feeling adrift from everybody around her . And as the audience has drifted to the mental edge with Essie, so Perry makes us complicit in helping her back. The lights go up and we’re challenged to be more than just passive witnesses: somebody must help Essie get off her isolating plinth and find her way back to ordinary, human connection.
And they do. No spoilers, but Collapsible ends on a hopeful note, that in no way detracts from its sensitive and powerful study of alienation, in our shiny, 24/7, hyper, online world.
SECOND REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
Perched precariously upon a pedestal as if levitating, Breffni Holahan delivers an hour long “edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown” monologue written by Margaret Perry who has been collecting new playwright awards for her endeavours.
What troubles Holahan’s character Essie unravels as she alternates between inner dialogues with others. She is collapsing under the presentation of coping, indeed succeeding when she is, in fact, distressed. She argues, laughs, explains and pleads with her father, her sister, her ex-girlfriend, her ex-boss and her interviewers, seamlessly swapping voices and personalities.
The set is simple and works cleverly with the metaphor of balancing mental stability and illness (although the designer might have missed a trick hinted at in the title of the play, feeling like a “collapsible” chair). With a black backdrop and a floor covered in mulch, Holahan glows fluorescent under a searching spotlight, her pale limbs exposed and fluid as she balances on the precipice.
Curiously, Essie's failed relationship isn’t fully explored. Unfortunately, it is just touched upon as a contribution to her nervous breakdown, although this scene makes for one of the most poignant and sensuous moments in the play before shying away. Essie's main problem seems to do with acting buoyant in front of family and employers. This false buoyancy dominates the monologue forcing Holahan to rely overly on a startled, beaming expression for most of the play.
Wide-eyed smile aside, it is with some fortitude and a great deal of charisma that Breffni Holahan remains firmly in our sights throughout a resounding performance meriting her fringe awards in Edinburgh and Dublin.
Breffni Holahan plays Essie in 'Collapsible'. Photos Helen Murray