Speaking Their Truth
She can do this. Hasn’t she’s already saved the world? In Miriam Needham’s ambitious “Compostela,” one woman’s secular trek along the spiritual Camino proves much more challenging than she thought it would be. Having just spent the last six months walking door to door campaigning to have the Eight repealed, Dawn is finding the world inside her head is not reflected in the world outside her head. So to hell with the right size shoes, and to hell with the sea and its possible floods. She's going to Santiago de Compostela come hell or high water. Which, oddly enough, might prove to be one and the same thing.
Exploring activist burnout, power, and disconnection, Needham’s confessional styled, one woman performance finds the burnout Dawn wondering why, if she’s won the referendum, does she feel so lost and alone? Throughout, Needham’s sharply observed humour and insights sees Dawn’s activist mind, devoid of personal connections yet rich in ideals, unable to switch off. Showing a lot of heart, a touch of poetry, with just a hint of performance art, “Compostela” delivers some wonderfully magical moments. Yet, textually and performatively, there’s not enough going on to really bring it home. Especially with so many insights relating to the Repeal the Eight referendum feeling dated, and with it having no real story to tell. Indeed, when the dust settles, all that remains is one endearingly smart performer delivering what, at times, can feel like a clearly impassioned rant.
As with any rant, even when someone’s especially entitled to make it, it always ends up as an all knowing voice doing all the talking. If Needham is charming and engaging at first, cleverly interweaving characters and back story, her desire to deal in direct address soon comes to dominate, especially around women having had to ask for what should already have been theirs in the first place. Indeed, as “Compostela” nears it’s semi-poetic end, it drops any pretence at being anything else as Dawn decries from her superior position. From where everyone who might otherwise disagree, or be disengaged, risks appearing as stupid, ignorant, or far too lazy to see what’s going on right before her eyes.
If Needham’s material feels rigid and focused, Needham's performance is nothing short of luminous. She might only inhabit her additional characters briefly and intermittently - an evangelical American; a sympathetically pathetic Brit; a smugly insufferable sea - yet Needham reveals herself to be a hugely impressive talent. Under Donal O' Kelly’s astute direction, Needham makes the space her own, utilising a long, coloured scarf with the improvisational ease of a seasoned veteran. Performatively, Needham is always a delight to watch, and even to listen to when slipping between characters. Dee Armstrong’s set, and Fionntan Fitzgerald’s backdrop painting, add subtly throughout, though Reuben Cummin’s lighting occassionally proves intrusive.
There’s a sense in “Compostela” that Needham’s Dawn resents the world not making the sense she wants it to make. And who hasn’t felt that. Yet even if Dawn is right in all she says, it risks seeming self righteousness and juvenile, disliking the unenlightened, the misinformed, or the uninformed for whom truth is not always so clear cut. Those swayed by centuries of conditioning, or endless counterclaims in the media made by equally invested activists of an opposing position, also suffering burnout perhaps. In the end, “Compostella” delivers a battle weary, authoritative voice sounding unsure of itself at times, yet speaking their truth with heartfelt conviction. You might likely be inclined to believe them. But you really wished for more, which "Compostela" so often hinted at.
“Compostela” written and performed by Miriam Needham, runs at The New Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2019 until Sept 14.
For more information, visit The New Theatre or Dublin Fringe Festival 2019.