• Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks


Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli


****

Admit it. Glancing through the Dublin Theatre Festival listings, or passing the poster outside the Peacock, you did a quick double take when you first saw the title, likely feigning disinterest. Unless you're of the old stock, or one of the new puritans, in which case you blessed yourself in rapid succession so as to avoid eternal damnation. Reading this to check if your worse suspicions are confirmed (or if your pornographic prayers have been answered). That this is a scandalous production written and performed by a scandalised woman talking about sex and her body and her sexy bits. Like that Fleabag yoke. In truth you’d be partially right. Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks is scandalous, in that it's a scandalously smart and entertaining production, with a scandalously impressive performance by Sarah Hanly. In which Hanly sets out to create a one woman show by a real woman, about real women, for real women. And for anyone else who'd care to come along.


And yes, it does bear some striking similarities to Fleabag. It's not just that Hanly's woman against the world, Saoirse Murphy, is unafraid to talk openly about her sexual desires and experiences, or about her secret fears and failings. There's also her quirky parents and older sister, a painful secret revealed near the end, a close friend with tragic implications, all addressed to an imaginary presence. Yet Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks is to Fleabag what paella is to your favourite fried rice dish. They both might share the same basic ingredients and have similar textures, but they're actually very different experiences.

Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli


And no, there's no hot Catholic priest, aside from the one Saoirse's mother is shacked up with. But there is a convent school were the sexually baffled Saoirse finds herself discovering her body without proper instruction and is not quite sure what to do with it. Hell, she might even be a lesbian. Learning how to make her own orgasms. Practicing with the anal loving Orla and a pair of rosary beads. Naturally the nuns disapprove and, as punishment, Saoirse is forced to play the male lead in the school play. Where she undergoes an epiphany holding a pair of fake testicles. Which sees her leaving Dublin to commit the greatest mortal sin of all: enrolling in Musical Theatre College. Where everything becomes different, yet everything remains the same.

Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli


Throughout Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks, episodic incidents punctuated by moments of physicality reveal Hanly's huge versatility, playing a cast of thousands on the road to herself. Impressively directed by Alice Fitzgerald who balances the physical with the verbal, utilising Elliot Griggs' lighting and Alexandra Faye Braithwaite's sound design to great effect. With light changes signalling shifts in narrative, it quickly becomes apparent that sex isn't the only thing on Hanly's mind, or even the most important thing. Sex being one aspect of a struggle with body dysmorphia. Eating disorders having become a normalised part of Saoirse's world. There's even a little BDSM. All to feel connected to the here and now of her own body. A body she's been taught to be ashamed of rather than how to live in. Or to love. She's a woman after all, taught to be ashamed of herself since that incident with the apple. Only now she's looking for someone to help change things. But hold up, isn't she someone?

Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli


If Fleabag lost out to God, Hanly appears determined have a new conversation with religion, refusing to cancel either God or desire because it was God who gave us these amazing, desiring bodies in the first place. Exhibiting a refreshing openness as she both talks and mimes orgasms, self harm, dance routines and, yes, the titty wank of the title. Being utterly shameless. As in without shame, there being no need for it. Funny, moving, thought provoking, and keeping lectures to a minimum, Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks makes for a hugely impressive debut. If there's a sense Hanly might have said more or dug deeper in places, there's a greater sense that Hanly is just getting started. And that she trusts her audience's intelligence. She knows she hasn't all the answers, especially around body dysmorphia. Just a dream of one woman, on an empty stage, telling her truths to try enable a change. With maybe just one green rope lit up like a Christmas tree. Oh, and a magically bottomless bum bag with lots and lots of props.


Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks by Sarah Hanly, an Abbey Theatre/Royal Court Theatre, London, co-production, runs at the Peacock Stage of the Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 until October 16.


For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival or Abbey Theatre.



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