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It is the first Friday night of the Fringe and the streets are sweltering in a high fever. There is an ugly confrontation outside C on Chambers Street, with a bouncer and an indignant thug staring each other down and lots of people edging forward to watch. One wants to retreat to the cool of the theatre, where everybody is middle-aged and sensible, but I have chosen to see Eva O’Connor‘s play “My Best Friend Drowned in a Swimming Pool,” and the audience are very young – about my age, in fact – and this play evokes their fashionably cynical world of hard drugs and empty sex. The evening is so hot that drowning in a swimming pool would almost be pleasant, but this play is more keen on the horrendous drowning than that inviting pool.

Henry (Aiden Heald) seems an amiable chap, but the play begins only after his watery demise. Four of his friends are left behind, but they find that they were only really connected to each other through Henry and they are now gazing at each other over the pit which remains. Chloe and Eleanor (Eva O’Connor) bicker about the latter’s “slutty” example, whilst Connor moans that he and his dead friend had previously affected a mere appearance of apathy, but that he is now genuinely weary of life. “Am I boring you?” he asks the audience. “I don’t give a shit.” Liam (Ribbles MacRhea, apparently) is a priggish and pernickety Catholic, as “gay as Christmas,” who is very arch and knowing, and he does everything conceivably possible to annoy the others, whilst still ending up as essentially a cute cuddly toy. Although Liam has little hissy fits about the others’ cigarettes and drugs, he does not have any credible alternative.

It is rather like watching an adaptation of As I Lay Dying in which the Bundrens are all too wasted to carry the coffin to Jefferson. The writing is tight and the acting is shrewd, but two things ultimately give this heartless play a raison d’etre.

The first is the dancing, which does not merely extend to the formal dance sequences, but encompasses a wild Irish jig of a high which the friends experience after they snort cocaine off a bible. They are duly dumped into a scene of extraordinary macabre irony, which affirms that the grief that they felt for Henry has ultimately drowned in their aloofness and indifference, leaving just a ripple of blank regret.

The second is O’Connor herself, who is an utterly mesmerizing presence – a horrid little monster, who slips imperceptibly from croaky vulnerability into shrill, fierce rage. She performs angry little dances like a Tahitian savage. Chloe is incensed that Eleanor and Connor made out, but this seems physically and psychologically impossible. Connor is such a huge hunk that when, in a rare plea for tenderness, he bends over to hug the tiny Eleanor, their heads do not even touch. They more often resemble a strapping Peter Pan being mobbed by an embittered Tinkerbell. But these characters are so furious and self-absorbed that they would probably start biting chunks out of each other’s bodies if they ever found themselves locked robotically in congress.

It seems frankly terrifying that a twenty year old has written this, but the cynicism is not merely glib or a sort of child’s play. Drink and drugs and sex and faith may be all thoroughly miserable, but they are all that we have to rage against the dying of the light. So sincere is O’Connor in this conviction, that she seems almost idealistic.

[The whole play can be viewed on Vimeo. Ed.]

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