C Aquila, Daniel Cummins, Depression, Edinburgh Fringe, Elspeth McKeever, Eva O'Connor, Kiss Me and You Will See How Important I Am, Rob Neumark-Jones, Sunday's Child, Sylvia Plath, The Hand-Me-Down People, Theatre Review
Eva O’Connor’s company Sunday’s Child has returned to the Fringe with a new play, “Kiss Me and You Will See How Important I Am,” which is now established at C Aquila. It would be wrong to dismiss O’Connor as being merely a self-publicist, but the sum of her business with the stage seems to be a fierce, impassioned self-publicity. Perhaps “Kiss Me” is only nominally fictional – an earnest confessional writing seems to break through the fabric of its fiction, like the bald patches in the hair of its depressive protagonist, Alex. It should be embarrassing, but the play is exhilarating in its awkwardness, in its insistence upon taking complete ownership of the stage. Although the audience tonight will be harangued for their “voyeurism,” O’Connor commands their attention.
This is something of a shame, because one would like to see O’Connor being forced to compromise and set foot outside of the sealed world which she has created for herself on stage. She would make a fine Lady Macbeth, but she would probably take over the play and Macbeth would be reduced to carrying her bag. Perhaps she would be better as Cleopatra, but it would not work with the thick Irish accent. I can imagine her as Henry V, if Henry V was a child soldier leading a gang of lost youths with drooping machetes around a desolate war zone.
At first she looks like a child, but then a deep furious adulthood will flood into her face. If I had to guess her age, I would place her between sixteen and thirty five. She is typically surrounded by henchmen and yes men. I am aware that I may be building a description of somebody who sounds freakish or conceited, but there is a weird, profound sort of glamour to O’Connor. She knows the truth behind the title of this play: she really is important.
“Kiss Me” is less successful than last year’s production, “My Best Friend Drowned In A Swimming Pool” – less witty, less entertaining and less of a story – but it seems braver and more certain of itself. Like the New Theatre’s “The Hand-Me-Down People,” the play is a sort of anti-theatrical stunt. Yet whereas the New Theatre’s experiment is disorientating and may potentially disappoint its audiences, “Kiss Me” will chill them into obedience.
O’Connor’s heroine Alex is scorching with depression and virtually asphyxiating under the heady self-obsession which defines this illness. She and her cronies gather to address the audience. There are a few funny lines, the occasional abandon of some dancing, but nothing otherwise seems to be happening. It is like watching some kids who are solemnly filming a podcast in their basement; the proceedings are eerily devoid of the giggling and teenaged exuberance which one should expect.
The characters take turns to approach a lone microphone. If the title of this play clips a line from one of Sylvia Plath’s journals, the monologues at the microphone have something of the delivery which is peculiar to Plath’s radio play “Three Women.” O’Connor has previously dismissed English literature’s greatest poet and feminist as being “mediocre” and fodder for sixth-formers. But this is O’Connor’s play and Plath should know her place.
Suddenly O’Connor retreats. Rob Neumark-Jones and Daniel Cummins are performing a brief, powerful vignette in which the autistic Christopher gets a bloody nose after making a disastrous pass at Alex’s ex-boyfriend. Christopher should know his place too. The kiss is “important,” but it is not clear how. The blokeish ex, who is as lithe as a young Mick Jagger, is destabilised by the kiss and he spins off out of orbit. The kiss is scarcely any happier for Christopher. O’Connor twinkles like a faraway star – this is the exemplum in her sermon. It illustrates the cruelty and loneliness of the universe. The ex stamps away, complaining that she is manipulating him.
“You can go!” O’Connor tells the audience. The lights come on. There is possibly the longest ever gap between a play’s ending and the applause. Are any of us brave enough to clap?