Abortion, Ciaran O'Brien, Edinburgh Fringe, Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, Eva O'Connor, Feminism, Fishamble, Jim Culleton, Maz and Bricks By Eva O'Connor, Savita Halappanavar, Summerhall, Theatre Review
[The following contains spoilers.]
There has been new work from the Irish writer and performer Eva O’Connor at every Fringe since 2010. This year she is at the Summerhall, with a play called “Maz and Bricks,” though sadly she has been denied the Roundabout, their best showcasing space. The venue for “Maz and Bricks,” a packed lecture theatre, feels cramped for a drama of such characteristic ambition and energy.
“Maz and Bricks” is set before this year’s landslide vote in Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment and legalise abortion. O’Connor plays Maz, a perturbed young woman from the country who has travelled to Dublin to take part in a pro-choice demo. A woman named Eimear has died after being refused an abortion, circumstances that are loosely modelled on the real-life death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway in 2012. We might be wary of this play because it commences with an outrage that is overly clear-cut and propaganda seems to be yawning ahead. Yet the Eighth is never actually debated and no pro-Life voices will speak during the story. Instead, Maz encounters a more challenging and unusual adversary.
She is about to assault some pro-life activists when her hand is stayed by Bricks (Ciaran O’Brien), a man who she had met earlier on her way into Dublin. Bricks is daft, rather sad, and dressed in sportswear – he could be a member of Goldie Lookin Chain. He is also a young father and he is meant to be out on a day trip with his four-year-old daughter. In some unsettlingly contrariwise symbolism, however, her mother has denied him access to his child.
The story is told in prose and verse and Irish lyricism. It occasionally sounds earnest and like Sylvia Plath’s “Three Women,” but O’Connor relies on some populist humour, about wasps and Girls Aloud, to keep the play chirpy and pleasantly wonky. Indeed, after Maz and Bricks bunk off the protest, there follows what looks like a perfectly choreographed afternoon in a romantic comedy. Bricks is mildly in danger of morphing into Hugh Grant. He and Maz kiss in the street; they get into some scrapes and their dippy mood is encapsulated in a scene when they steal some chocolates and lob them into the mouths of passers-by.
My literary alarm system is suddenly beeping. It has detected that two characters are spending a day walking around Dublin, during the build up to a referendum that will be just as progressive and of as much import to Ireland as the publication of Ulysses. There is a cascade of isolated events in this play and I begin to try to align them with those in Homer’s epic. Who is the Cyclops – who the Lotus Eaters? Best leave this one with me.
A consensus soon emerges that the romcom is irresponsible. Maz should return to the protest and attempt to harmonise her cranky, wounded personality with the country’s growing political solidarity and sympathy. Bricks knows that reality is waiting for him as well. Innovatively, the meeting between this pair will not end in the normal one night stand but in a complicated therapeutic breakthrough. Bricks is not a working-class conservative who is dead-set against abortion rights, but fair-minded and receptive to change, the everyman who Maz, and Ireland, will need on side if they are to win against the Eighth. Maz is not a shrill, sloganeering snowflake and she will equally adapt to the spirit of openness and reconciliation. On the brink of a referendum – a vortex of class divisiveness when encountered within British politics – O’Connor has conjured up this strange, deep, impromptu friendship.
Nevertheless, there is a distinct texture of plastic to the friendship where it might benefit from greater realism. The trouble is that the whole play is in love with Bricks. We have to fall in love with him in order to understand how Maz falls for him. He is made charming, chaste, boyish, a universe of delightful banter, and yet there must be some sharp cruelty lurking somewhere within him. Perhaps we glimpse it at the very end of the story but I don’t think that we see enough. His ex still sounds like a shrew. We surely never let go of the fantasy that he and Maz can be partners – that the romcom can strike back –that this play’s title can be its conclusion.