Myra McLaughlin (nee Hennessey) (Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley) didn’t start out in the most stable of households but she had a roof over her head nonetheless. By the end of her longitudinal story, however, she’s begging on the streets of Dublin, and by her own admission has fallen victim to what she calls ‘The Beast’, a term her father used for alcohol dependency. The play, by Brian Foster, in its current form, was written in 2009, a re-write of Foster’s 2002 play Maire: A Woman of Derry, though it is arguably even more relevant now (in autumn 2023) than it was then.
Thinking about it, I’ve come across people like Myra with alarming regularity in London: the sort of people who demand money (and the operative word is ‘demand’), sometimes quite aggressively (though Myra doesn’t) only to swear and be rather disparaging towards people who fail to meet their demands. These days, there’s an added complication, in that a lot of people don’t carry cash with them, partly because so many establishments – including West End theatres – have gone cashless. Programme? Tap. Ice cream? Tap. Glass of wine? Tap.
This show takes audiences through the decades – the play’s title is very apt. She starts her tale shortly after a memorable forty-eighth birthday party. Ultimately, Myra’s life has been rather colourful, and like the best of single-performer shows, Hewitt-Twamley also plays an entire community, including husband Tommy and son Daniel. Granted, a couple of characters come across as more than a little contrived, such as Tina, who has a very distinct high-pitched voice. There’s just a bench for a set, located, so Myra tells us, by Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge. Officially, it’s the Liffey Bridge, but it gained its more commonly used name because there used to be a half-penny toll charged to cross this pedestrian-only bridge, with turnstiles at either end.
Anyway, the show relies very much on the art of storytelling. Myra speaks briskly, and as the evening goes on, her speech becomes gradually less decipherable. This seems a deliberate artistic choice as the alcohol dependency takes hold of the character.
Without giving too much away, everything that could have gone wrong in Myra’s life goes wrong, and she is not personally liable for every outcome. This is not a story for the fainthearted – there were audible gasps from the audience at certain points as the story unravelled – and I found it fascinating to discover how she ended up sleeping rough. It’s never overly sentimental: indeed, sentimentality never comes into it, and there’s a knowing nod to the stereotype, particularly on stage, that the Irish love drinking to excess. The humour in the show is often bittersweet, and the takeaway message seems to be that there are many people who could, if life dealt a particular set of cards, have ended up like Myra.
At the same time, by making it by name and by nature Myra’s Story, it’s a deeply personal one, covering a range of human emotions at an intimate level. It doesn’t explain why there are quite so many people sleeping rough out there, but it doesn’t try to, acknowledging the humanity of each and every one of them, who all have their own stories. But this one is Myra’s. There’s a disarming honesty to this intriguing production, as courageous as it is charming.
It is also worth pointing out the production establishes links with local homeless charities in every city the play is performed in. For this particular run, they are raising money for The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields, a few minutes walk from the Trafalgar Theatre. The centre has hundreds of rough sleeper clients each week and provides, amongst other things, hot meals, showers, laundry services and access to medical appointments.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Set on the streets of Dublin and described by many as a devastating yet heartfelt piece of theatre, Myra’s Story follows Myra, a homeless woman who awakes in a hostel in Dublin and decides to share all. With an abundance of heart and humour, Myra’s Story is a must-see production!
Meet Myra McLaughlin, a middle-aged homeless alcoholic surviving on the streets of Dublin. With extraordinary stories to share, Myra is willing to tell the tales of a wild past, as she begs onlookers at her usual spot by Ha’Penny Bridge. She portrays all the roles and acts out all the amusing, tragic, and heartbreaking events in her life that have brought her to this point. You’ll laugh with Myra, you’ll share her tears, and more importantly, you’ll never forget her.
Myra’s Story is penned by playwright Brian Foster. Irish playwright Brian Foster began his writing career at 39 years old. The incredibly likeable and vulnerable character Myra is a composite of several street drinkers Foster was familiar with in his native Derry, Northern Ireland. Foster’s other works include The Trophy Collector, The Most Haunted House in Derry, The Butterfly of Killybegs, A Miracle in Ballymore, Colm Cille and, Lillibulerro.
Tue 19 Sep – Wed 18 Oct 2023
Book Tickets for Trafalgar Theatre