Lena Dunham Not That Kind of Girl

Lena Dunham Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”

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This book came to me by accident when I stumbled across it in a charity shop for 50 cents. I should confess that I have never seen Girls and I stopped reading Dunham’s newsletter Lenny after just a few weeks. However I used to work with several young women who all loved Dunham and her approach to life and feminism so I was interested to find out more. And of course Dunham takes up so much media space that it is almost impossible not to be aware of her.

October 8th 2012, Dunham signed a $3.5 million deal with Random House to publish her first book, an essay collection called Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned. This is reason enough to find the book intriguing. In these days of self publishing and award winning authors having to go back to their day jobs it is rare to hear of such a large book deal. This is testimony to her fame and Random House’s faith in her ability to sell volumes. One could argue that this is also a vote of confidence in female authors writing about the female experience. Dunham is a self proclaimed feminist and much of her USP circles around this. “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman,” she writes.

This is not a straightforward autobiography or memoir but instead a collection of essays about herself. Dunham does not shy away from self exposure and using her own life as inspiration. This enable readers to connect with her and feel moments of kinship. Although this relentless self investigation can also be a turn off for others. Sections covered include Love & Sex, Body, Friendship, Work and The Big Picture. I particularly enjoyed the chapter Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier / Angrier / Braver. Having sent one of those emails I can confirm that it is not the sensible thing to do but it does feel fantastic. At the end of it is difficult to know though how much she really has learned, as ideas of self worth and belief seem to still trouble her. It seems exhausting to be so continuously self conscious.

Although this was an enjoyable enough read I am perhaps less interested in Dunham than Dunham is and for me there were very few of those ‘I recognise that moments’. The parts that stood out for me most were where Dunham talked about her health difficulties with clarity and honesty. I didn’t really need so much information on diet and her interest in therapy.

The collection is written in the conversational and easy going style of a natural writer. I read through this in one day and very much enjoyed her fluid writing style. Not That Kind of Girl opens a window into a different way of life. Her privilege and experiences as a woman and a writer are so different to mine which made this an entertaining read. It was enjoyable if not worth a revisit.

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Listening In by Jenny Éclair

First Written for Shiny New Books

Listening In Jenny Eclair

 

Listening In is a collection of 24 short stories from comedian and writer Jenny Éclair. Her last literary outing was the well-received novel Moving, reviewed on Shiny New Books here. Running at around 10 pages per story it is perfect bed time reading. Black and white illustrations by the author are dotted throughout the collection which add a personal touch.

Each story is written from the first person, giving them an intimate feeling, plunging the reader straight into the mind of the protagonist. They really do feel as though you are ‘listening in’. The secret thoughts, conversations, hopes and disappointments that would normally remain lock up inside are explored.

Although each story is unique and stand-alone the theme of revenge does run across multiple stories. Those small moments of success and comeuppance, feature throughout. As in the case of the protagonist of Margot’s Cardigans or A Slight Alteration these moments have taken a long time to emerge and have only really occurred by accident. Those serendipitous moments in life where a long-suffering wife or loving mother has the chance to rebalance their surroundings. Many of the stories are deeply funny. None more so than those in which good intentions turn in on themselves and women who seem to be one thing turn around and surprise their families.

Combining both revenge and a comedic turn of events is Christine Paints. Here a couple have moved out to the countryside so that the husband can pursue his writing career in peace. At the same time, his wife has been finding ways of integrating into the local community, of making new friends. One way she has done this is through a local art class. This one morning a week event which will go on to change her life in ways she could never have predicted. The ending had me punching the air with joy as Christine was able to do what everyone who has ever been betrayed or mistreated has dreamt of.

“It’s never easy, the first day, it it? First day anywhere really, school, new job, holiday?”. In Fantastic News, a middle-aged couple go on holiday, leaving their adult children behind: 23 year old University student Scott, and the slightly more troublesome twenty nine year old ‘spoken word’ poet Tamsin. When Tamsin sends her mother a mysterious text, imaginations start to run and hopes climb. The relationship between the unnamed woman and her husband John is incredibly realistic and entertainingly told. One doesn’t have to have had the same experiences to be able to recognise the patterns they have fallen into. The ending, which I shall be careful not to spoil, was quietly beautiful.

Anthea’s Round Robin is laugh out loud funny from beginning to end. It starts out as one would expect but quickly descends into a catalogue of a failing marriage. It seems that Anthea has only ever dreamed of one thing: “I had plans drawn up for a new kitchen extension, because let’s face it, what woman in her right mind doesn’t dream of a laundry room-cum-larder-stroke-boot room and pickling kitchen?”. She sounds middle class and middle aged. A woman who has lived for her children for so long that she has largely ceased to live herself. Her husband is another matter altogether. Their picture-perfect life falls away with each sentence and the reader is given an hilarious insight into Anthea’s life so far.

In Carol Goes Swimming a woman has been pushed into going swimming by her nurse. It is time to focus on her health and weight (although this is something that the nurse seems to believe applies only to patients and not to medical professionals). The smell of chlorine never changes and it pricks her memory into action. She is taken back to school swimming lessons, teaching her children and to meeting her best friend Sandra. Now Carol has a new life to navigate but an encounter with the past will remind her that she is not alone. This story is a testament to the importance, romance and power of lifelong friendships.

The collection started life as a BBC Radio 4 series called Little Lifetimes, which are still available to listen to online. This very popular miniseries demonstrated Éclair’s way with words and ability to craft intriguing first person narratives about seemingly ordinary women with hidden depths. This wonderful volume is very high on my list of favourite short story collections and is not to be missed.

 

Jenny Éclair. Listening In (Little Brown Book Group, 2017) 9780751567731, 246pp., Hardback. .

Happy Birthday Jacob

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Writer: Michael Marshall

Director: Laura Bowler

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

A well lived in kitchen, with children’s toys and fairy lights under the table dominates the stage with a door either side; one leading to an unseen upstairs, another leading outside. This door is always closed. Soon two brothers enter the stage. Jacob is seventeen and tense. Lucas is ten, in blue pyjamas, red socks and smiling. It takes a moment to realise what is missing from the domestic scene. The brothers are alone. Their mother has been gone for years. Their father, a drinker left one night. They are waiting for him to return, which helps to explain Jacob’s tension. As the older of the two he has taken on the role of parent. He is helped by his friend Terry who is loud, brash and sweary. She also loves Jacob and Lucas and tries in her own way to help. Her character is a little exaggerated but she brings warmth and comedy to the play.

The audience enter the theatre to the sound of 90s music: The Spice Girls, Madonna, The Backstreet Boys. Although not everyone would admit to it there was a lot of singing along and heads bobbing. Music is an important part of this production. Lucas plays and bonds with Jacob and Terry through music. They sing out loud, dance, jump about the kitchen with abandon. It is fun and beautiful. Music and recordings also plays a pivotal role in relation to their parents. The support team have done fine work on the sound, costumes and setting which complements the actors and narrative movement at all times.

Jacob has struggled to keep their parent’s absence a secret. He works, gets Lucas to school and does his best to be the adult. However, when their mother turns up again how long will they be able to carry on? The relationship between Jacob, played by Stephen O’Leary, and Lucas, played by Finian Duff Lennon, is excellently portrayed and is the highlight of the play. As their life together is forced to adapt to change the audience waits to see whether they will be able to hold on to each other. Despite everything that Jacob has done Lucas still holds out hope of one day having a family. He likes fairy tales with happy endings and more than anything would love his own. There are moments in the play that are touching and heart breaking; that provoked tears. To be able to make an audience both laugh and cry is quite a skill.

The New Theatre champions new writing and has given this play the chance to develop and respond to criticism. Happy Birthday Jacob seems to have benefitted massively from this experience and the team have turned out a well-formed theatre experience. There are few other places that give writers and theatre makers the chance to premiere new work. Plays such as this are a testament to the theatres ethos and show why it is important for new writers to be nurtured and given the chance to put their ideas of the stage. This is a very strong debut from playwright Michael Marshall.

 

Holding by Graham Norton

First Written for Shiny New Books

The first thing one does after finishing Holding is breathe a sigh of relief. When a well-known personality branches into fiction there is always the fear that they will not be very good; that maybe they have been given a book deal because of their celebrity and social media following. This is most definitely not the case with Graham Norton’s debut novel Holding; a well written enjoyable novel that deserves to take pride of place on any bookshelf.

Holding is set in the small Irish village of Duneen, County Cork. The village’s only Garda (police) presence is that of Sergeant PJ Collins. Overweight and underemployed nothing interesting ever seems to happen in Duneen. That is until human remains are found on and old farm. As the investigation gets going, secrets that have long laid buried come to the surface. All is not as it seems. Resentment, anger and frustration have been bubbling beneath the surface and as each revelation comes to light the image of a picture-perfect community is punctured a little more. Collins is more used to dealing with paperwork and acting as a traffic controller at local fetes. When he is called into action can he step up to the plate and be the Gardai he always hoped he would be?

Alongside Collins is equally frustrated Brid Riordan. Drowning her disappointment in wine she is far from the naïve in love young woman of twenty-five years ago. The still beautiful and fragile Evelyn Ross is equally as trapped, keeping house for her two older sisters who have been growing old together. Brid and Evelyn had once been love rivals but now they couldn’t be more different. The focus of their affection was a young Tommy Burke. The tall silent type he courted Brid, hoping to take procession of her farm when they married. At the same time, he also allowed Brid to develop feelings for him. She was inexperienced in love and has lived a largely unfulfilled life. When Tommy mysteriously disappeared both women’s lives were changed irrevocably. Holding takes us to the centre of the love triangle that had such a profound impact on their lives.

The highlight of the novel is the way in which Norton has drawn his three main characters. There is a kindness is their depiction and it is easy to find oneself rooting for them; hoping that they will break out of their bonds and fully realise their hopes and potential. Collins is not the most obvious character to choose to lead a novel but Holding is the richer for him. He is a man who has settled into an easy life, avoiding all risk of romantic failure and hurt. Similarly, Brid is a fully rounded and not always likeable character who is far more than her drinking habit. In contrast Evelyn is someone who has lived almost in stasis. What for most people would have been an unsuccessful childish romance was compounded by the deaths of her parents. She has lived in a state of almost paralysis for the past twenty-five years. Her character arc was particularly well done and enjoyable to follow. There is a tinge of sadness to her life. Will this be lifted by the end of Holding?

The action is largely enclosed within Duneen, a place that rarely has internet access let alone dramatic and surprising murder mysteries. There are a few moments where the characters motivations and emotional turns seem a little unconvincing and Holding is not what one would expect from a traditional crime thriller. However, the character development is the backbone of the novel. Norton has a knack for drawing sympathetic characters. In this well paced novel each character finds themselves nearing middle age wondering what they have achieved so far and whether they are holding onto to the past rather than stepping into the unknown. Loneliness and uncertainty are always hovering at the edges. The novel is sweet and understated.

An otherwise positive Guardian review argues that “surprisingly … he steers clear of rendering Irish speech beyond a few “sures” and “lads””. This is something I was very grateful for. From living in Ireland, I have found that many writers tend to over exaggerate Irish vernacular and slang, giving the impression that they have never set foot into rural Ireland. Fortunately, Norton largely avoids stereotyping village life.

As the novel came to its close I thought I knew what would happen. Soon though I found myself sat bolt upright surprised at the turn of events. It would have been so easy to create a simple, twee happy ever after with little truth or life in it. However here we have something much more interesting. Holding is a charming debut from beginning to end.

Graham Norton. Holding. Hodder & Stoughton. London. 2017. 9781444792034.  Paperback. Pp312.

The Rivals

First Written for The Reviews Hub

The Rivals, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Director: Liam Halligan

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Smock Alley Theatre has an interesting claim to fame. Dublin’s oldest surviving theatre is well known for helping to bring the plays of celebrated playwright, poet and essayist Richard Brinsley Sheridan to the stage. 242 years after Sheridan’s first ever play The Rivals graced the Smock Alley stage, it makes its long overdue return to the theatre’s main stage. Minutes into this vibrant and entrancing production it becomes clear that Smock Alley theatre goers should not have had to wait so long for The Rivals return.

Written in 1774 this comedy of errors is set in the English spa town of Bath. It is here that conspiracy, intrigue, duels and love rivals flourish. Seventeen year old Lydia Languish is hopelessly romantic. Inspired by the novels she reads she is desperate for a love affair, devoid of financial ties or obligations. Her lover ‘Beverley’ is actually Captain Jack Absolute, who has created a false identity for himself so that he can woo Lydia and eventually elope with her. Lydia’s Aunt, Mrs Malaprop, is keen that she should make a good match. She is an excellent character that continues in the vein of The Merry Wives of Windsor’s Mistress Quickly. Well-meaning middle aged women who meddle and interfere. Mrs Malaprop’s interesting use (or perhaps more accurately misuse) of language is used to create comedy and confusion in equal measure. Lydia has two other suitors and soon it becomes impossible for her romance with the mysterious ‘Beverly’ to continue. Alongside our star couple are Julia and Faulkland, who despite their love for each other cannot seem to move past their insecurities. To add to the confusion is Irish Sir Lucius O’Trigger. This combative and vivacious character is conducting his own romance by letter. However mischievous Lucy, paid to carry his letters to Lydia, instead allows them to go astray. Further buffoonish Bob Acres has an interest in Lydia and Sir Anthony Absolute is always on the verge of a temper as he tries to negotiate the engagement of his only son Jack.

If the plot sounds a little confusing is it played smoothly and with humour. One can’t help but sit back and enjoy. The capable cast work well together to keep the audience laughing from beginning to end. Mrs Malaprop is excellently played by Deirdre Monaghan, who brings full meaning to her misuse of language while also making her a likeable and sympathetic character. Finbarr Doyle, Colm O’Brien and Aislinn O’Byrne all carry off the difficult task of playing more than one character. They make this seem easy and the changing of hats (or wigs) is used to add to the comedy. The costumes are well done and each reflects the character well. A special mention has to go to Fag/Bob Acres’ ever changing colourful and unmissable wigs.

The Rivals is performed on the main stage which backs onto one of the original stone walls. This works perfectly for the set with soft lighting at the back creating a divide between inside and outside. The set pieces are simple but well done. The colours of the divan and sofa work sympathetically with the costumes. The stage gives the actors plenty of room to manoeuvre, meaning that at one moment the audience can be in a upper class dressing room, the next in the middle of a duel in the cold early morning fields.

This joyously entertaining production by Smock Alley is not to be missed. Hopefully it will not be another 242 years until The Rivals makes its way back to this stage.

Runs until 2 September 2017 

1816, The Year Without A Summer

First Written for Headstuff.org

1816, The Year Without A Summer | The Eruption Of Mount Tambora

The summer of 1816 has an unusual claim to fame. It is known as The Year Without a Summer. How did it come by this unusual moniker? The answer lies in the events of the previous year. In 1815 Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies, modern day Indonesia, erupted. It was the largest volcanic eruption for 1,300 years. It had a significant effect on the global climate causing severe weather abnormalities. It resulted in a decrease in global temperatures by 0.4 – 0.7 OC. This may not sound like much but the impact of this was significant.

Earth had been in a period of global cooling from the fourteenth century. This “little ice age” was aggravated by the 1815 eruption. New England (US), Atlantic Canada and large swathes of Western Europe and China experienced agricultural disaster. The spring and summer of 1816 was marked by consistent dry fog across the east coast of America that reddened and dimmed in the sunlight. One result of this was that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Even wind and rain didn’t dispel the fog. For many this gave it an unusual, perhaps even supernatural quality. This fog has since been characterised by scientists as a “stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil”.

It is important to note that the understanding of the eruption has come in recent years with volcanologist and scientists being able to better understand the events of 1816. In line with this, historians have been able to take this new information and apply it to their understanding of the time. For example, riots occurred across France and Great Britain in 1816. The causes are now known to be linked to the eruption. Arson, looting of grain warehouses and political unrest was accompanied by a revival in religious demonstrations. The numbers recorded as attending church and chapel services increased during this period.
In May the frost was so intense that it killed off crops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Higher elevations suffered the most. Snow was recorded as falling on June 6th 1816 in Albany, New York and Maine. Following on from this in New York in May temperatures were recorded as dipping below freezing most days. On June 9th the ground froze solid and crops failed.In a previous article I looked at the ideas and climate that contributed to the writing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She began the novel at Lord Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. Switzerland was particularly badly hit by the climatic changes. One example is that an ice dam formed below the tongue of the Gietro Glacier (high in the Val de Bagnes) in 1816 and 1817. Eventually the dam collapsed under its own weight in the June of 1818, contributing to flooding in the Swiss capital. Further to this crop failures resulted in famine conditions with the government declaring a national emergency. This is considered to be continental Europe’s last ever famine which was accompanied by rising mortality rates. The flooding was worsened by the unseasonably large storms and rainfall that flooded many major European major rivers. After this came frost in August. The melt resulted in further flooding.

Closer to home the cost of bread in Britain almost doubled in the same space of time. Cool temperatures and heavy rains had resulted in failed harvests. Bread shortages led to riots breaking out in East Anglia in May 1816. In the town of Ely labourers armed themselves before marching on the town and taking the magistrate hostage. They were holding banners bearing the slogan “Bread or Blood” and fought a pitched battle with the militia. The bread shortages also fuelled mass demonstrations in many of the larger cities. The army were often used to combat the civil unrest as feelings of discontent and frustration grew. Prison numbers increased as rioters were jailed, as did the number of those executed or sentenced to transportation. However, Britain was better able to deal with the food shortages than much else of Europe due to established trading links with Western America.

In May the frost was so intense that it killed off crops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Higher elevations suffered the most. Snow was recorded as falling on June 6th 1816 in Albany, New York and Maine.

North and South West Ireland also saw the failure of wheat, oat and potato harvests. Ireland seems to have been particularly vulnerable. There was a major typhus epidemic from 1816 – 1819 in which an estimated 100,000 people died. In Ireland a recorded 80,000 people were infected. 44,000 died [1]. Figures vary however it is clear that Ireland was hard hit by the epidemic. High levels of unemployment had followed the demobilisation of the British army following the end of the Napoleonic wars. Many were living in abject poverty with little food available.

So how could one volcanic eruption have such a big impact? The eruption of Mount Tambora occurred between 5th and 15th April 1816. It ranked VEI 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. To put this into perspective this eruption was over 1,000 times greater than the 2010 Iceland eruption that caused mass travel chaos. The sound of the eruption was reportedly heard up to 2,000 miles away. Millions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide, ash and pumice were ejected into the atmosphere. An ‘umbrella’ of ash spread over a million square kilometres. Billions of tonnes of dust, gas, rock and ash scoured the surrounding area before hitting the sea at such velocity that it triggered a tsunami. A 2 metre high wave hit the East Cost of Java. This was 500km away. The wave had enough power to travel for over two hours before it reached land. Further to this, hurricanes of debris incinerated the area 20 km radius of the volcano. The eruption was incredibly devastating. Clive Oppenheimer, a volcanologist with Cambridge University has placed the number of deaths between 60,000 and 120,000. These figures vary however what is sure is that this caused the largest death toll as a direct result of a volcanic eruption in recorded history. The loss of life continued in the months after the eruption as disease, famine and pestilence ravaged the area.

The effects were recorded by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. A British Statesmen he was best known for his involvement in the conquest of Java over the Dutch and French military forces during the Napoleonic Wars and his role in the founding of Singapore. Usefully he also wrote a memoir which included details of the eruption and its aftermath. [2] According to the British Library, Raffles collected first-hand accounts of the eruption from people living about 400 km from the volcano. He noted that the eruption lasted for over a week with the major explosions occurring on the 5th and the 10th of April. He is also a vital source of information for the effect the eruption had on the local area.

The eruption of Mount Tambora was intensified as the 1816 eruption came on the heels of several other volcanic explosions. Examples of this include eruptions in 1809, in the Pacific Ocean, and an 1812 eruption on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. Added to this was the impact of an 1813 eruption in Japan and another 1814 eruption in the Philippines. These eruptions contributed to a substantial build-up of atmospheric dust. This resulted in less sunlight passing through the stratosphere leading to a drop in temperature. The decade of 1810 to 1820 was the coldest in 200 years.

In the United States crop failures had a different impact. Migration increased as individuals and families moved away from the food shortages in New England on the east coast and began to settle in the more hospitable areas of West and Central New York and the American Midwest. This contributed to the settling of the “American Heartland”. Grain prices had collapsed which contributed to the first major American economic depression. One side effect of this was that the cost of oats rose from 12c a bushel in 1815 to 92c a bushel in 1816. The climatic changes continued into 1817 with temperatures in Central and Northern New York recorded as being as low as -30OF in the winter and snow falling in the August. This came after months of hard frosts that froze the ground, destroying further crops.

In a letter dated 8th September 1816 Thomas Jefferson had this to say. [3]

“We have had the most extraordinary year of drought and cold ever known in the history of America. In June, instead of 3 ¾ inches, our average of rain for that month, we only had ? of an inch; in August, instead of 9 1/6 inches, our average, we had only 8/10 of an inch; and still it continues.  The summer, too, has been as cold as a moderate winter. In every State north of this there has been frost in every month of the year; in this State we had none in June and July, but those of August killed much corn over the mountains. The crop of corn through the Atlantic States will probably be less than one-third of an ordinary one, that of tobacco still less, and of mean quality.  The crop of wheat was middling in quantity, but excellent in quality.  But every species of bread grain taken together will not be sufficient for the subsistence of the inhabitants, and the exportation of flour, already begun by the indebted and the improvident, to whatsoever degree it may be carried, will be exactly so much taken from the mouths of our own citizens.  My anxieties on this subject are the greater, because I remember the deaths which the drought of 1755 in Virginia produced from the want of food.”

Joseph Smith’s family was one of the many to migrate. They lived in Norwich, Vermont, from 1814 to 1816. Due to the bad harvests they were one of the families that moved west, in their case to Palmyra in New York. The population of Vermont decreased from 15,000 to 10,000 at this time. In 1816 Joseph Smith Jr was 10 years old. He would later become known as “The Prophet”. The family moved to an area known for its intense religious revivalism. “The Burned Over District” [4], in west and central New York became known for the frequent religious revivals that took place there. They were so frequent and potent that this era became known as hosting the “Second Great Awakening”. This Protestant religious revivalism resulted in membership of Baptist and Methodist congregations rising rapidly. Rejecting rationalism, it placed emphasise on emotion and the supernatural.

This was fertile ground for a new religious occurrence to take place. Shortly after their arrival Joseph Smith Jr began to experience a series of visions. These were intense spiritual events that had a profound effect on him. In one of his visions an angel directed him to a buried book of golden plates inscribed with a Judeo – Christian history of an ancient American civilisation. Over time he wrote down all he learned and in 1830 published an English translation of the plates. This book was called The Book of Mormon and led to the founding of the Church of Latter Day Saints. It is fascinating the think how a volcanic eruption in Indonesia could influence religious beliefs in America.

 

[1] In Our Time podcast. 1816 The Year Without a Summer

[2] Raffles, S. 1830: Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, F.R.S. &c., particularly in the government of Java 1811–1816, and of Bencoolen and its dependencies 1817–1824: with details of the commerce and resources of the eastern archipelago, and selections from his correspondence. London. John Murray, cited by Oppenheimer (2003).

[3] https://historicinterpreter.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/weather-famine-disease-migration-and-monsters-1816-1819/ 

[4] So called because it had been burned over by so many different religions.

Futureproof

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Futureproof – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Lynda Radley

Director: Tom Creed

Futureproof opened for the first time in Dublin tonight at the Project Arts Centre. This intriguing play by Lynda Radley had a previous outing several years ago in Scotland where it was well received and won an award at the Fringe Festival in 2011. The new artistic director of Cork Everyman Theatre, Julie Kelleher, was determined to bring this show to Ireland. It ran at The Everyman for several weeks in June before bringing its unusual story to the Dublin stage.

A sign hanging from the ceiling, facing away from the audience tells us that we are now witnessing an ‘Odditorium’: a Victorian style travelling show featuring novelties and curiosities. The characters enter the stage and break through a locked fence. Carrying their lives on their backs they begin to settle down. There is the world’s fattest man, a bearded countess with no arms, identical twins joined at the hip, a mute mermaid and a hermaphrodite. They are led by owner and entrepreneur Riley who is struggling to find a way to make the show reach the audiences. Time has moved on and they are no longer the big draw that they used to be. When he does hit upon an idea it will have irreversible consequences for all involved.

As the group move from selling the odd to selling hope, they try to make themselves more and more like the audience. This play is an exploration of identity. As people are unmade, changed and presented as something new there is a constant struggle for each individual to decide whether they are happy as they are, or whether they want to be considered ‘normal’. Alongside this are the complications that money brings into the equation. If they can no longer profit from their difference how will they carry on?

In an interview with The Guardian Radley summed it up thus: “They were originally viewed as marvels, or as God’s jokes, but then as time went on and ideas about science and evolution developed, they became people to be pitied. In America there were even laws that meant they weren’t allowed to be shown. But, of course, a lot of these people were happy to be involved – it was a way for them to make sometimes quite substantial amounts of money, and not to be institutionalised and kept out of sight”.

Radley has hit on an excellent idea. She deals well with the nuances of identity and selfhood. However, the execution of this idea still needs a little work in order for it to reach its full potential. There are moments that feel as though they should be funny but they don’t quite manage to be. Similarly, there are moments of sadness, rage and confusion that could be truly intense and powerful. The play is well acted and the set design is inventive; a mix of glamour and tat. Futureproof is a one of a kind show and Dublin will not see it’s like again any time soon.

Runs until 1 July 2017 | Image: Miki Barlok