Breffni Holahan’s Essie sits on a stone plinth, surrounded by rubble and rock shards. It’s a fitting setting for Collapsible, Margaret Perry’s play about a woman ungrounded by her recent break-up and unemployment.
Unsatisfied by internet quizzes which label her (amongst other things) as a ‘lamb’ person, Essie attempts to re-establish her own identity by collating a list of adjectives from her friends and family to describe herself. The disconnect between these meaningless phrases – particularly ‘feet on the ground’ – and her current reality supports her critique of vague job interview descriptors, and more widely our tendency to define ourselves by others’ perceptions of us.
Under Thomas Martin’s direction, Holahan’s Essie is deeply introspective, perpetuating her own state of isolation. For instance, she worries whether all of her benevolent actions for others are selfishly motivated, if she has undertaken acts of kindness in an effort to be perceived by others as kind. These harsh and glaring insights, which extend to criticisms of internet culture, continue as Essie spirals to question whether she is even real at all.
One particular strength in Holahan’s performance is in her ability to relate to the audience. An (other-defined) ‘militant perfectionist’, Holahan contorts into an uncomfortable, creature-like squat with eyes pinned open, proclaiming she’d rather ‘do nothing at all than something almost great’. From midway along the rigged seating, I was eye-to-eye with Holahan, her manic state resounding with my own tendencies in striving towards some so-called ‘objective perfection’.
Holahan’s solo performance is enhanced not only by Alison Neighbour’s striking set, but Alex Fernandes’ subtle lighting, which shrouds Holahan is glimmering golds in moments of romantic nostalgia, and intense reds in her darkest moments of introspection. Well-crafted and well-executed, Collapsible’s own storyline of reflection urges audiences to do the same.
Collapsible runs at Assembly Roxy until 25 August 2019, and at HighTide Festival in Aldeburgh between 10-15 September 2019.