“Substance” can be found at C Nova in the India Buildings. It premiered earlier in the year at the Summerhall, but my Fringe brain was still slumbering in its bell jar back then. This is the third time that I have seen a show from Eva O’Connor and it is getting increasingly taxing to come up with amusing new ways of describing her (Tychy has previously reviewed “My Best Friend Drowned in a Swimming Pool” and “Kiss Me and You Will See How Important I Am”). O’Connor has characteristically written “Substance” and she characteristically fills the O’Connor shaped gap which she has created for herself in the middle of it.
She is always surrounded by henchmen and there is another motley-looking bunch with her this year. She always looks like the boss and although she has given herself the unlikely role as another character’s assistant in “Substance,” this somehow makes her look even more like the boss. I can picture her processing thousands of applications to join the cast, and then stiffly drawing up some ruthless contract for the lucky applicants to sign. No, you can’t have any overtime!
Of course, O’Connor’s outfit, the Dublin-derived Sunday’s Child, are probably all chortling thespians. But the whole point of Sunday’s Child is this grim-faced little woman and her fierce, glamorous magnetism. It is also her enduring defiance of any other possible way of making a play. Whatever criticism you want to construct about O’Connor’s theatre always arrives back at the same concession: nobody else stamps their own individuality, or even eccentricity, so aggressively upon every detail of the performance.
This year the title is disappointingly short and the theatre is generously intimate. O’Connor and her henchmen are supposed to be manufacturing drugs, but the cast seem to be whimsically determined to demonstrate that the methadone is in fact flour. They get high and perform a flour-twirling interpretative dance, extravagantly throwing around their “drugs” like confetti. It is a sight to horrify anybody who genuinely sells drugs.
For a play which is entitled “Substance,” there is a general disinterest in the plot; it is ultimately just the starting point for a streak of unpredictable and purely stylistic theatrics. The drama is suddenly ripped open and dancers leap out. Mikey (John Faulds) turns from the play and unexpectedly addresses the audience, asking whether somebody can make him a sandwich (incidentally, none of the audience answers “alright, I will!”). Oscar (Fred Fergus) regales us with a random, entertaining anecdote about a child having an epileptic fit in Tesco. What does it all mean? Nothing – it’s just anarchy. But like a circusgoer, you always want to see what will happen next.
The patches of substance turn out to be powdery and insubstantial. O’Connor’s Jodie talks like a nihilist but she is apparently a Catholic. This is merely a mysterious detail. Mikey is a shiny-faced, hundred-watt Cockney, but his leery swaggering at the start of the play will deceive us for about three seconds. He turns out to be utterly lovely. Unfortunately, he is supposed to have a murderous, misogynistic side, but there is no resounding depth beneath the bonhomie. I suppose, however, that to concentrate on Mikey is to miss the point; it is rather like admiring one of the thieves who was crucified alongside Christ. These characters merely adorn O’Connor’s exhilarating and wonderful performance.