In more ways than one, Collapsible struggles to ground itself. Its protagonist, Essie (a role reprised by Breffni Holahan) begins by meditating cross-legged on a slab of brick, held in the air above gravel and dust by one metal pole. It’s a set from Alison Neighbour which is, quite literally, gritty, in which Holahan sits waiting. Essie’s eyes are closed, a smile forming on her face as she is alone with her thoughts. It’s a moment of peace before her fast-paced, relentless monologue.
Essie begins with a confession. “I spend a lot of time on the Internet,” she says, Holahan generating early laughs as she flickers between deadpan and hyperbolic delivery of Margaret Perry’s script. Essie explains she’s been taking Buzzfeed-style personality tests in a search to find out more about herself. She’s making a list about her personality traits for job searches and reveals she feels like a collapsible chair under all the pressure, hence the title.
Collapsible follows Essie in her search for completion, meeting friends and family to collect adjectives for her list. We don’t see other characters, their personas instead indicated in a slightly slower pace in terms of dialogue. Even so, such conversations feel hard to follow. The ‘he said/she said’ needed in Perry’s script and the distinction in Thomas Martin’s direction to ground the interactions are too few and far between, leading to most of the other people in Essie’s story being presented as inconsequential.
When these conversations also play a large role in the monologue, it’s unfortunate. Though they do however place more emphasis and attention on Holahan’s impressive performance. Striking a delicate balance between the comical and the haunting, her take on Essie’s crumbling circumstances are profoundly unsettling – no doubt aided by moments of sustained and intense eye contact with members of the audience. Making the most of a small piece of rubble whilst unpacking her thoughts, Essie encapsulates the feeling of being trapped with one’s transcendental thoughts, of being unable to ground herself in the moment. It is an all too familiar anxiety perfectly portrayed by Holahan and illustrated with fine lighting from Alex Fernandes.
Although as Essie loses her sense of self in her job hunt, her list of adjectives provide some sense of stability to her as her world crumbles. Other interesting ideas such as the bureaucracy of applications are suggested, yet not quite developed.
Perry’s writing and Neighbour’s set both, in a clever and metaphorical way, reference that feeling of grounding ourselves. At the end of her extensive monologue, I wonder if Essie may come finish or comes to her project, yet that doesn’t happen. Collapsible‘s actual conclusion, while comforting and important in its symbolism, wasn’t quite as down-to-earth as it could have been.
Collapsible is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 21 March.
Production Images: Helen Murray.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Collapsible for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.