For anyone who’s read Eimear McBride’s uncompromising and brilliant debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – where language is ne plus ultra – a stage adaptation seems like an obvious reimagining. On the page, Girl’s narrative is a harrowing monologue tracing her life from birth to adult, and she speaks in fragmented staccato, at once neoteric, but nudged by the memory of Joyce and Beckett. On a stage lit by Sinéad Wallace’s perfectly judged lighting, Aoife Duffin stands Pyjama-clad, to remind us of her youth, and inate shapelessness as she struggles to make her self solid in the world. The family triangle consists of a domineering Catholic mother, a brother with a brain tumour and the complex, titular girl, who is both damaged and defiant. Sexual abuse, religion and families are habitual themes in Irish drama, but rarely have we seen a character react as this one does. Duffin’s exceptional, fervid portrayal of a girl struggling to deal with trauma and burgeoning sexuality is the best of her career. She also plays every character – including Girl’s transgressor when she is raped – with nuance and doesn’t ventroloquise.
It doesn’t diminish Duffin’s talent to wonder if the play might have benefitted from an ancillary cast, so the audience could stay with the magnetic Girl all the time. Passivity was never going to be a choice, and her weaponry consists of language and sexuality. Girl’s response to the horrors of the world is a Ginsbergian howl, all the more effective on Lian Bell’s sparse stage and the unsettling rising drone of Mel Mercier’s sound design. To adapt a book that resists convention in structure and language isn’t easy. Annie Ryan has intuitively parsed Eimear McBride’s novel with skill and offers us a piece of theatre that speaks for itself. Not half, but newly-formed, brittle and intricate.
This review was originally published in The Irish Times on October 1st, 2014