Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
August, 2004

The bombshells are brunette rather than blonde, and they don’t quite explode, but by Jingo, they don’t half fizz.  Australian Joanna Murray-Smith wrote Honour, whose production at the National last year contained such a wonderful, sombre performance by Eileen Atkins.  It’s a world away from this quartet of 20-minute monologues performed by Caroline O’Connor, best known here as Nini Legs-in-the-Air in Moulin Rouge.

O’Connor begins as a bride, desperately trying to persuade herself that she really does want to marry dull Ted and not just to get to wear the dress.  It would be heartbreaking if it weren’t so hilarious. “I’m so happy I could scream!” she says, and does, unhappily.  In the weakest of the sections she’s a wife and mother, rushing through the day and breathlessly cataloguing everything she does, and doesn’t do, and messes up.

The third monologue is the strongest. O’Connor looks nothing like a 64-year-old widow, but she successfully brings out the character with deft economy.  Winsome is trapped by her name almost as much as by her age and status, longing for the unexpected to happen to her.  Finally it does, when the much younger blind student for whom she reads seduces her over a volume of erotica. It’s a beautifully written and performed piece.

The final segment is designed to go out on a laugh, and also as a pretext for a jaw-achingly funny comedy dance number.  A young convent-school girl, outraged that her mortal enemy has stolen her Cats-style number for the school talent show, suddenly resolves to improvise a routine to the theme from Shaft.  The combination of O’Connor’s genuine dance skills and the character’s clumsiness makes an astounding finale.

It’s a simply staged show: no special effects, just a discreet costume change for each section... if you can call a bridal gown or the dancer’s black Lycra and tiger-striped fun-fur “discreet”.  Murray-Smith confirms herself as a writer who should be better known here.  And O’Connor does likewise, in spades: she has energy, comic skills and a subtle intelligence underpinning them all. She’s going to be in great demand.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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