Review: Collapsible

An understated performance that captures falling apart

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Photo by Brownwen Sharp
Published 06 Aug 2019

Essie is eroding. Bits of her are crumbling away, like the dust that falls from the stone platform she perches on. She keeps a list in her pocket of all the words people would use to describe her: smart, bubbly, no-nonsense. But these are just so much debris, disintegrating to powder in her hands.

Margaret Perry’s new play is about falling apart. Its protagonist sees the world collapsing around her and she begins to collapse with it. Raised precariously above the ground by Alison Neighbour’s set design, surrounded by jutting spurs of rock, Essie is cut off from the world. There are no footholds, either literal or metaphorical, and the isolated plinth she stands on is slowly dissolving.

As Essie, Breffni Holahan is quietly remarkable. It’s an unshowy performance, yet it subtly captures each anxious shift of mood, each switch of gear between conversations. Smiling broadly for a job interview, she’s “bubbly” epitomised; in a private moment of despair, she reverts to blank anguish, going back through her list of words and hearing only hollow adjectives.

Just as it seems clear where this is going, Perry and director Thomas Martin deliver a final surprise, puncturing Essie’s loneliness and self-absorption. It’s a startling moment, jolting an audience out of the aestheticised misery of Essie’s experiences and questioning the conclusion that the play appeared to be building towards. Introspective monologues are ten a penny at the Fringe, but this subversion of the genre feels bracingly novel.