Too Cool for School
It was a tough place, Tipperary, in the early 2000’s, especially for Louise ‘Snoop’ Fennessy, one of many invisible girls attending St Catherine’s Secondary School. With her sad life amounting to little more than terminally boring transition year classes, hanging with fellow outcast Elaine, or shifting her unromantic boyfriend Seanie, Louise spends much of her day longing for the attention of local tough girl, Phyllis McInerney. In Roseanna Purcell’s one woman show, “Test Copy,” the plights, pleasures, and pitfalls, of finding your own shade of cool in secondary school are given the high energy comedy treatment. But if Purcell shows immense presence and talent on stage, her story of a young girl wanting to fit in in a sea of green jumpers doesn’t completely convince, presenting a big ask at the end that it doesn’t really sell, despite some incredibly enjoyable moments.
In Purcell’s unfocused script, Louise, following a Little Miss Sunshine moment during the school talent show, finds herself enjoying some much sought after popularity courtesy of her outrageous hip hop routine, delightfully choreographed by Jazmin Chiodi. Yet if becoming popular proved hard, staying there proves even harder as the fickleness of so called friends send her spiralling to some dark places. Throughout, Purcell’s script excels at set pieces, with a girl fight and Purcell’s exemplary hip hop routine being particularly brilliant. It's also wonderfully revealing of how Louise processes the world about her, especially her frank and beautifully handled sexual awakening. Yet too often it gets smothered in unnecessary descriptiveness and slice of life anecdotes that are nowhere near as interesting. This results in a lack of focus, and a weakening of cohesion, not helped by several uneasy transitions between scenes. In the end it can feel, on too many occasions, like listening to someone on a sugar rush venting excitedly about events far more engaging to them than to the person listening. All of which makes Louise’s move to the dark side unable to fully convince.
Indeed, “Test Copy” frequently suffers from too much observational tell and not enough physical show. Something a pared back set, featuring a boombox on an essentially black stage, only serves to highlight. Which is a real shame, for when Purcell sets about showing, she is phenomenal. Physically articulating an array of characters, some wonderfully convincing, Purcell is exceptionally engaging. Yet with Phyliss seeming to channel Long John Silver, and her side kick cackling like the witch from the Wizard of Oz, some characters slide uncomfortable close to caricature. Even so, Purcell remains riveting, particularly when she shifts from direct address to physical movement. Something director Pat Kiernan could have exploited more. If Kiernan works well with Purcell’s wonderful range of facial expressions, the physicality of her performance suggested there was much potential left untapped.
While Purcell can certainly turn a phrase, or even structure a sentence, in “Test Copy” her structuring of a story is not all it might have been. Taking far too long to find its feet and getting mired in unnecessary anecdotes and details, “Test Copy” still peaks in places, but its efforts at a serious ending don’t fully deliver. Yet when it does deliver, “Test Copy” is both heartfelt and hilarious, with Purcell never anything less than captivating.
“Test Copy” by Roseanna Purcell, produced by Bitta Bite Theatre Company, runs at The Viking Theatre until April 14th
For more information, visit The Viking Theatre