Based on Eimear McBride’s 2013 novel of the same name, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a brutal and unrelenting portrayal of the life of a young Irish woman from before her birth into her early 20s. Seeming to move from trauma to trauma and diving deep into the horrors of poverty, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, illness and death, the protagonist understandably struggles to understand herself through the lenses that the surrounding world imposes on her.
When it was first mass published in 2014, McBride’s novel garnered international attention firstly for the swathe of awards and recognition it was achieving, including winning the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction), and secondly for its experimental use of the prose form. Akin to the Modernist stream of consciousness novels of Virginia Woolf and fellow Irish writer James Joyce, McBride’s novel foregoes conventional grammar and instead streams all dialogue, description, and connections through the protagonist’s disjointed thoughts. It serves to compact the trauma of the protagonist’s experiences and minutely demonstrate the effects such trauma has on the self psychologically.
Annie Ryan’s stage adaptation is faithful to the original text with a single performer monologuing what she sees, hears, and feels in a continuous sequence. Ryan appears to have done away with the more abstract passages of the novel in favour of full or partial sentences which are easier to parse and, therefore, perform. But the adaptation maintains the bleakness of the text and the feeling of futility at the fleeting moments of joy or power the protagonist describes.
Ella Prince powers through this performance. Her direction from Erin Taylor is steady and carries the weight of this script with a swagger. The character’s apathy and distance outsources any hope or worry to the audience who are strained in waiting for something, anything, good to happen to this girl. Prince’s vocal training from Linda Nicholls-Gidley is excellent in both the Irish accent and Prince’s ability to bring a world of characters onto the stage. What made Prince’s performance particularly striking was her use of small facial expressions and shrugs to convey disgust, disbelief, fear, misunderstanding, grief, and much more in an off-hand way. The character is almost constantly behind a mask that Prince layers on her performance really well. The only thing I could ask for would be a greater use of silence that would have slowed and sharpened key moments in the continuous forward motion of the production.
The design of this production lends greatly to the atmosphere of the text with layers of textures, shapes, and colours that mimic layers of a constructed consciousness. The stage floor is painted with the eerie outlines of tree branches, foreboding grim forest scenes, with a trapezoidal prism of dirt forming the centre of the stage, where the majority of the action takes place. Prince wanders around the mound casually as a school girl and more defiantly as she ages. It allows for a rambunctious freedom in youth while also hinting at alienation and entrapment as time moves on and the protagonist understands the paradoxical widening and shrinking of the world that comes with experience.
The lighting design from Veronique Bennett is similarly layered from floor lights to conventional overheads to a suspended square around the centre of the dirt mound. Each level allows for an expansion or shrinking of space to mimic the landscape of the protagonist’s mind. Combined with the set design and Clemence William’s other-worldly sound design, the production design is a post-modern juxtaposition of constructed and natural, old and new.
Like a lot of productions coming to stage at the moment, Taylor’s is an attempt to both speak to and distill the global atmosphere of outrage and despair following the #metoo movement and the continuous train of powerful men parading across our screens as accused and convicted predators. The tone of this show, in particular, touches the audience in its visceral display of surprise and disappointment dulled by a familiarity that leaves you weakened. It’s a powerful production and worth grabbing a ticket to before it sells out.
A Girl is Half-Formed Thing is running at Kings Cross Theatre from April 11th – 21st.