Rajvi Glasbrooks-Griffiths travelled to the Wales Millennium Centre to witness a production of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, adapted for the stage by Annie Ryan.
Annie Ryan’s adaptation for the stage is an effortless translation of form from Eimear McBride’s novel. “People read it out loud”, writes Annie Ryan. “It wants to be heard.” Aiofe Duffin’s nameless, timeless Girl delivers an 80-minute interior monologue in a subversive and brutally electric Kerry-accented voice; it is a cumulative stomach-punch, just one person on a prop-light stage, wearing a pair of pyjamas and being so many damaged people, so fully. The novel finds its lucidity on stage. Ryan talks about “prioritisation of voice rather than the picture”, and here the voice and tortuous word structures uttered aloud paint a profoundly palpable picture. The snarl of the predatory uncle, the derisive judgement of the ‘holy joes’, the pained cruelties of the abandoned mother, the anger of the brain damaged brother and the sexual vulnerability and power of the protagonist alternate with unflinching clarity through Duffin.
There is Joyce and there is also Beckett in the inventive neologisms, biting invective, brokenness of syntax and disintegration of communication. The themes are familiar to modern Irish writing, and in the rawness there are echoes of Sarah Kane too. Yet this is a voice unmistakably new. It pulsates with its own spitting beat for a unique and chaotic linguistic music charting Girl’s pain, anger and collapse. For all the compounding trauma stored up within the passionate language, there is never any self pity and some parts are, jarringly, very funny. It’s a text taxing enough to read and hear, let alone internalise, regurgitate and live with.
The sexual explicitness is intensely discomforting. It conflates religious imagery with innocent vulnerability with power.
“How strange my baptise renders me. His want me. Fuck me if he could and I and I and I … I’m splashing falling into it.” The protagonist’s conflicted feelings towards her abuse means sex becomes a lot of things. She utilises her newfound understanding as a stick with which to mock the inexperience of her brother’s playground tormentors. Sex is a means of unforgiving self-harm – “But butcher’s block. I felt between my legs … It’s an awful lot of sore”. When she goes to college, sex becomes liberation from the suffocating oppression of home and self:
“A whole other world a whole civilisation in this city that is not home? But I can. And I can choose this. And no one’s falling into hell.
In the new world I am do this every single time I can.
Nicer is not what I am after. Fuck me softly fuck me quick is all the same once done to me.”
The denouement, inevitable as it is, is not any less harrowing as a consequence. The loss of a brother whose presence has defined her life since her place in the womb is not one Girl can come through. Mother’s brutal charges ring on and this ultimate baptism is final.
“Strip pain all the parts off me. Wash away. Wash into the deep with it … That was just life. And now?
My name is gone.”
I cannot remember the last time I was as rapt during a performance.