Nov 29 2008

Catherine Eaton’s Corsetless

Published by at 1:02 pm under Blog

CorsetlessIn her opening monologue Catherine Eaton borrows lines from Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Julius Caesar to introduce us to her character, Olivia, a woman in solitary confinement in a mental institution, under the care of her childhood doctor. The play that unfold asks the question, is Olivia mad or is she sanely telling her own truths in the only way she knows how, through the language of Shakespeare. This one woman play (which features the disembodied voice of Vincent O’Neill as the doctor) is a tour de force for the young actress and writer.

In interview Catherine says,

I took Shakespeare’s complete works, his canon apart, I fragmented it, and I rewove them together, fragment by fragment, to tell an entirely new narrative.

It’s an ambitious idea and one that works well. Once I stopped my brain from saying “I know that line; that’s from Hamlet; that’s from Romeo and Juliet”, and began to fall into the world she was creating, her narrative flowed beautifully to tell the story.

CorsetlessSadly, it is her story’s finale that lets her down. Captivated by the battle of minds between Olivia and her doctor and teased by the subtle sexual tension (I’ll remind you that the tension is created solely by Eaton on her own on stage), I awaited a dramatic and climactic conclusion, and I felt let down by this. Perhaps she should have borrowed further from Shakespeare’s tragedies and given us a bloody end, or from his comedies and given us a love story with a happy ending, but she did neither of these. Instead we are left with a character still lost in her own mind, no further developed from the opening moments of the play.

This is a shame, because Eaton’s performance is so full of vigour, love, passion and even humour, that I willed her to have a decent end. Overall, it is like studying a set of monolgues from the Bard’s work. We explore tragedy and beauty, we examine madness, repression and the human spirit, but without the final act of Hamlet, without the tragic conclusion of Romeo and Juliet, without the satisfying farcical close of A Comedy of Errors, we are left with characters in limbo and unfortunately that’s where Olivia is stranded as the stage plumets into darkness.


I suspect Eaton purposely wanted to leave her character in limbo, neither freeing her to the world where she could be ‘normal’ nor condemning her for her madness. Eaton understandable empathises with her. Olivia is a woman who is passionately lost in the works of Shakespeare, as Eaton herself is/was. She sees nothing wrong with choosing only to speak in line from the playwright’s text. Olivia is incapable of even speaking her own surname, as it does not appear in the pages of this complete works. Eaton’s passion for Shakespeare is portrayed in Olivia’s actions and words, but somewhere along the path of writing her play, Eaton has forgotten that Olivia is in a psychiatric ward for a reason. It is madness and there is no method in’t.

I don’t want to be too negative. I enjoyed the play, I enjoyed Eaton’s performance. It was beautiful and courageous, but I would love to see her tweak the ending, or perhaps explain her reasons for the ending she gave it. As it stands, I would recommend the play to lovers of Shakespeare, but others may struggle to find merit in the production.



It is only the second play I’ve seen in the Greystones Theatre and I look forward to more.  The theatre works so well for intimate pieces like this and it would be great to see more people enjoying the venue. As for Corsetless, it continues its travels across Ireland including a one night performance in the Axis in Ballymun. For more information see Stir Productions’ website.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Catherine Eaton’s Corsetless”

  1. Nick Carron 02 Dec 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I agree with the initial remarks, it was indeed a tour de force for Catherine Eaton – she is not only a remarkable writer and a totally captivating actress, but also a vision of beauty.

    A stiunning performance. As I told to her after the Greystones performance, It was the first thing to capture my imagination in years. I wanted to shake that doctor till his teeth rattled!!

    Regarding the ending, it’s amazing how two different observers can come away with remarkably differing views of the meaning of a play… I believe when Olivia finally picked up those books at the end and read out a quote, she realised she still had a way to communicate….and I believe the intention was for us to hope that the new material would expand her vocabulary and horizons.

    I fully intend to go again and was sad to miss her at the Axis.

    You don’t need to like Shakespeare to enjoy this…though a decent understanding of vocabulary would be an advantage. GO!! It’s a remarkable experience.

  2. Darrenon 02 Dec 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Nick, I may have neglected to mention that Catherine Eaton is, indeed, beautiful. She has amazing stage presence too.

    I see what you’re saying regarding the ending, but maybe she could have driven the point home more. I felt Olivia was right back where we first met her, awaking from a sleep, nothing changed.

    Have you been to many events at the Theatre? It’s great to see such an impressive and adventurous a play performed in the town. It would be nice to see a few more plays there. Did you get to see The Case of the Frightened Lady?

  3. Nick Carron 02 Dec 2008 at 3:33 pm

    I live in hope that I read it right, as the alternative would be so frustrating. I couldn’t help falling for Olivia more than a little…so passionate and full of life, which is hardly a sin worthy of being locked up. Maybe Catherine will read this sometime and put us out of our misery (YOU caused the misery by the way, I was quite happy to think it ended on a positive note, you spoiler,you lol)

    Yes I do hope this becomes a regular thing having first rate performances in such an intimate venue. This was our first visit, as we just went up to see the christmas lights and popped in to see the theatre layout. We got chatting to Catherine and then we were so curious we just had to see the show. Little did we know she was the star. She never said a word! Just that we should come.

    Self -effacing and brilliant – quite a combination.

  4. Darrenon 02 Dec 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Oh fantastic. What an introduction. It was such a shame there weren’t more people there to appreciate it though.

    Maybe I’m just too cynical. I’m sure I’m wrong. Yep, definitely. In fact, Olivia is probably fine now with a great job in her local town. She’s probably moved on with her life, settled down with a nice man who appreciates her and they regularly go to the theatre to see Shakespeare plays…



  5. Nick Carron 02 Dec 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Damn, I was hoping to get her while she was still desperate

  6. […] Catherine Eaton’s Corsetless seems like a familiar idea — a character who speaks only in lines from Shakespeare. I always take a passing interest in such projects, although they tend to suffer from a problem that the author of the review notes — it’s hard to make your mind stop saying “Ok, that was from Hamlet…that was from Romeo and Juliet….” […]

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