Real Wild Child
Forget Storm Brenda, or Brendan, or whatever storm is currently lurking on the horizon. Storm Emily is about to hit and you’d better batten down the hatches. In Irene Kelleher’s critically acclaimed "Gone Full Havisham,” one woman’s wedding night turns into a nightmare of biblical proportions, live streamed on social media from the honeymoon penthouse in her father’s hotel. If Kelleher’s story doesn’t quite have the shoulders to support her Dickens inspired character, Kelleher’s one woman performance proves to be another thing entirely. Brewing up a storm of such monumental force it blows you right out of the water.
As with her terrific debut Mary and Me, "Gone Full Havisham” follows a young girl whose innocence, and life, is being slowly destroyed. The bookish Emily Halloran, both child and woman, is torn between the competing and irreconcilable demands being placed upon her. Her social and sentimental education beginning with a father who wants to toughen up Daddy’s little girl into something like the son he never had. And a mother who regards her like a toy she never plays with, to be placed in a glass case and admired. Driving the older Emily to seek refuge in her Disney prince and saviour, fiancé Jack, culminating in the wedding night to end all wedding nights.
Sandwiched between a great idea and an even greater performance, Kelleher’s dark tale proves to be somewhat lightweight. Primarily for offering less of a story so much as a backstory. One told against a far more pressing, if often hurried and exciting present. Kicking off at full throttle, Kelleher introduces the wreck of Emily in all her crushed glory, like a detective novel opening just after the murder. Still locked inside the honeymoon suite five months after her abandoned wedding day, Emily has become a viral online sensation, broadcasting her breakdown for the world to see. And to judge. And to validate. Just like all her unhealthy, co-dependent relationships.
Yet no sooner are we up to speed with Emily’s predicament when pace starts to slacken. A result of being drawn into listening to the lengthy detritus that is Emily’s innocuous past. Interrupted only by her next online session, allowing Kelleher make some smartly observed commentaries about social media. If Emily’s past is a story told with sound and fury, its psychological realism signifies far less than it realises. Due, primarily, to Emily refusing to be defined by anyone, or reduced to being a character study. Like someone trying to rationally explain Hamlet, Emily refuses any attempts at easy categorisation, even if her pain and rage are easily recognised. Refusing to fit into a cozy explanation, Emily frequently slips the textual net. But Kelleher brings her vividly alive in a powerhouse performance showing all the potency of a Greek tragedy.
Visually, hard working lights by Paul Denby, along with sound and projections by Cormac O’Connor, prove to be a hit and miss affair. Sometimes beautifully accentuating, a la David Lean and Walt Disney, sometimes overwhelming, a la a car crash of online imagery. Mostly though, they come in a distant second to the tortured image this is Emily. Whose hair and make up by Maeve Readman, and dress design by Orlaith Carroll, make for a visual tour de force. If Emily is permanently strapped into a rollercoaster of desperation and destruction, Kelleher manages to layer her so she never sounds one toned, even if the emotional, physical, and narrative landscapes she inhabits are significantly constrained. Something director Regina Crowley, advocating for heightened theatricality and physicality, ably negotiates, marshalling the tidal wave that is Kelleher with terrific skill. But onstage it's all Kelleher, whose detailed Emily squirms, writhes, cackles and cries with the force of a primal scream.
Like Sarah Jane Scott’s comic confessional, Appropriate, "Gone Full Havisham” finds a young woman falling apart on her wedding day, trying to make sense of where she is and how she got there. But the similarities end there. If Kelleher’s far darker tale skates across the shallowness that is social media, it plumbs the depths of how girls are broken to fit into moulds not of their making. Becoming time bombs ready to explode. A kind of demented Everywoman, Emily speaks to the experience of many, even as she refuses to be reduced to a series of causes and effects. Yet even if efforts to rationally explain hurricane Emily fall short, there’s no escaping the hurricane that is “Gone Fully Havisham.” In which a ravishingly realised Miss Havisham reveals her real wild child. All brought vividly to life in a mesmerising performance by Kelleher.
“Gone Fully Havisham” by Irene Kelleher, presented by Patrick Talbot Productions, runs at Bewley's Café Theatre until February 1.
For more information, visit Bewley's Café Theatre.