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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

  Limbo / On Wonderland
Underbelly, Edinburgh

Andrew Haydon
posted 28 August 2007

Two one-woman monologues, both in Underbelly spaces, both performed mid/late afternoon, both set in Northern Ireland, and apparently written by writers who know one another. Mercifully, the comparisons end there. As an exercise in contrasts this is an object lesson in the sheer disparity of ways to tackle a monologue successfully.

In Real Circumstance Theatre Company’s Limbo, Caroline Williamson plays Claire; an unhappy teenage girl standing on the edge of a lake, in the middle of the night, in the increasing cold. Claire gradually recounts her recent biography, until, by the end of the play, we have reached the exact point where we joined her on the lakeside. It is a simple and affecting tale of guileless teenage infatuation coupled with a series of very unlucky breaks, set in a desperately poor area of Northern Ireland.

The real draw here is Caroline Williamson’s performance, expertly directed by Dan Shearer. Williamson is little short of sublime. Declan Feenan has created a complex, elliptical script which largely eschews the main attraction of the monologue to a writer – that they can just keep adding to the details with digression upon digression. Instead Limbo’s prime strategy is frequently to conceal crucial information, leaving it to Williamson to convey the full meaning of a situation, long before the details emerge. In addition, Shearer makes the canny decision to locate the telling of the monologue firmly in precisely the freezing lakeside location where the narrator finds herself. The performance is utterly stripped of the usual pyrotechnics available to actors performing monologues. Rather than leaping around the stage and physically conjuring each location of the story, the audience is given a fine, compelling depiction of a freezing, miserable young woman telling a story. The stillness and sheer detailed intensity of the performance is mesmerising.

By contrast, Fringe veterans Kandinsky throw pretty much every trick in the book at their Northern Irish female monologue, with equally impressive results. Director James Yeatman is no stranger to monologues, having previously directed last year’s sell-out Fringe success: Radio by Al Smith. On Wonderland opens with a woman sat in a tin bathtub on top of a small raised stage. This is Moia. She apparently suffers from a rare condition whereby she appears unable to distinguish perspective, or the relative size of objects. The effects of this on her life, combined with the tragic suicide of her father, eventual escape from the family nest and subsequent move to London account for much of the narrative, intercut with more poetical passages in which Moia describes her recurring dreams and her fears. In contrast to Williamson’s stillness Kerry-Jayne Wilson’s is a series of energetic explosions: she shouts, she laughs, she even cries real tears. Her performance is a virtuoso study in fierce, committed energy.


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