By Margaret Perry. Red Line Productions and essential workers. Directed By Zoë Hollyoak & Morgan Moroney. Old Fitz Theatre. 9 March – 1 April, 2023
Reviewed : 12 March, 2023
Essie has lost her high-profile job, and her girlfriend has left her. Her life is suddenly telescoping in on itself – and it makes her “feel more like a chair than a person. One of those folding chairs”. You know the ones she means. The collapsible ones that are hard to manipulate, tip over easily or fold in on themselves.
It’s a fair description of how Essie is feeling – and Janet Anderson explains why in this award-winning play by Irish playwright Margaret Perry. Perry writes tightly, her sentences slicing in on each other in this long but fast-moving monologue that Anderson attacks tenaciously. There are many characters in Essie’s life. All of them ready to help, advise, counsel, direct … confuse. And we meet all of them as Anderson takes Essie on a search for herself.
Anderson is a forceful presence on the stage. She moves with confident assurance, using the space judiciously, so that it appears wide at one moment, confining at another. Her timing is immaculate – especially in this multi-discipline production that mixes action and close-up camera shots, off stage videos and passed props that require split second timing. Anderson never falters – and her comedic timing is just as faultless.
As Essie she is open, sharing her confusion and uncertainty as her world becomes increasingly … collapsible. She makes the audience her sounding board, her confidant. Gives them her trust – and in so doing introduces them to her sister and her husband, her father, girlfriends and takes them with her to some infuriatingly condescending and snooty interviews. Anderson finds the right voice and tone for each character … and the lack of understanding and compassion they show.
At the same time, she exposes Essie’s vulnerability as interviews fail and her savings dwindle and the list of positive words people use to describe her – or those she uses to describe herself at interviews – make her feel even less secure
Set designer Hayden Relf has created a set that is as ‘fold away’ as Essie’s description of herself. There’s a lift that opens to reveal a claustrophobic silver space. A bathroom where a camera projects Essie’s face like a mirror. The back of the bathroom door has a low table at which Essie sits on the floor describing dinner with her father. Cameras and videos feature intricately in this production and lighting and video designer Morgan Moroney has ensured they add to the intimacy of Essie’s narrative, and the frailty of her loss of self-esteem.
There is humour in this play – and Anderson does it very well – but there is also an undertow in Perry’s message, a message about unemployment and loss of confidence and the effect of condescension.