Essie (Breffni Holahan) sits on a raised platform, from which she delivers a broad and briskly-paced story about her life. Not her entire life, mind you – this isn’t one of those cradle to grave narratives – but the salient points about how she ended up where she is at the time of telling her story. It’s not the happiest of tales, but then fairy tale plots don’t usually make for good theatre (unless we’re talking about a big-budget Disney musical).
At the same time, without wanting to take away too much from Essie’s experiences, the issues she faces are firmly in the realm of First World Problems. While she no longer has a job, for instance, she has some savings to stop herself from starving in the near future. There are, I suspect, a considerable number of people out there who don’t have that luxury, and would almost immediately plunge into rent or mortgage arrears without another job to go to.
The sense of humour in the play is rather dry, though witty, and has much to say about descriptions that are placed on people from a variety of sources, including those social media quizzes that tell people which European city they most resemble (for instance) and buzzwords from friends and both print and online media. The play is about everything, and yet in its moments of relative vacuity – such as an overly detailed recollection of who said what at a job interview she went to – it could be interpreted as being about nothing substantial. Or to put it another way, it’s a paradox.
Although she lives comfortably even in a period of unemployment, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy towards Essie. With more time on her hands – quite literally, all day – her intelligent mind turns to what I gather is a voyage of self-discovery. Who is Essie? When she calls herself in a job interview a “militant perfectionist”, is that a term she has been called by someone else at some point and one way or another has simply accepted it, or is it a term that really does best describe for herself her general approach to a busy day at the office?
Holahan’s Essie certainly has good stage presence. Nonetheless, it takes a while before anyone sat on one of the two side blocks (the audience sits on three sides of the performance space) is given eye contact from the stage to any extent. Perhaps this too is all part of the character’s development as the show progresses, becoming increasingly aware of both herself and the world around her. She tries to perk herself up with a list of affirmative descriptors such as ‘self-starter’, ‘team player’ and one she can never say out loud in full, ‘feet firmly on the… [ground]’, whilst retaining the knowledge, subtly expressed, that terminology of this nature is open to interpretation. Can, for example, one be ‘shy’ as well as ‘outgoing’?
There are plenty of moments at which the audience smiles, nods appreciatively at something relatable, and even laughs. But the show does well by having the audience consider, again without being preachy, what it is that is strangely enjoyable about watching someone gradually crumble – perhaps it is that parts of the narrative resonate so strongly with the sheer reality of modern living.
The ending of this engaging and compelling production seems a little contrived, but it is nonetheless a helpful reminder that one never needs to suffer alone and in silence.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Collapsible, a funny, furious new monologue about holding on in this collapsing world opens at the Bush Theatre on 5 February (press night 7 February). Winner of the Origins Award for Outstanding New Work at VAULT Festival 2019, The Stage Edinburgh Award, Best Performer at Dublin Fringe (for performer Breffni Holahan) and Fishamble New Writing Award at Dublin Fringe, Collapsible is a show for anyone who has ever felt crumbly.
Essie’s lost her job. Her girlfriend’s left. But she’s alright. Except lately she feels more like a chair than a person. One of those folding chairs. Solid one minute. And then….
Ellie Keel Productions in association with Bush Theatre presents
(originally co-produced with High Tide)
Written by Margaret Perry
Directed by Thomas Martin
Designed by Alison Neighbour
Lighting Design by Alex Fernandes
Sound Design by Jon McLeod
Performed by Breffni Holahan
5 February – 14 March 2020