Nov 29 2008
In 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.
Sadly, 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.