This pair of one-woman shows features two very different ways of addressing the fears and hesitations that hold us back. First, there’s Mary, a young Irish girl who, in evading her family, takes a moment to have a heart to heart with the family donkey. Then there’s Charlie, ruler of the land of lost toys and discarded dreams, whose stories let on more than she intends.
The evening begins with dim lights and a stream of profanity as Mary (Tess Mc Manus) hides on stage from a family intent on humiliating her. Silent in their seats, she turns to an audience that has become the placeholder for the only other character in the play: Percy, the ancient family donkey she is doomed to ride in front of her whole town.
The concept alone is thrillingly entertaining, and Mary’s socially awkward and self-reflective sense of humour only adds to this. She mocks the foolish town folk for their obsession with ridiculous traditions, but then has to remind herself that she’s still the one hiding in a barn and having a deeply personal conversation with a donkey. Embarrassing as this may be, it proves insightful. While considering him an obstacle to be overcome, Mary gradually reveals his characteristic stubbornness, that unwavering pursuit of inner want, to be the ideal she wishes she could achieve.
The three years since Donkey Derby’s premiere have fine tuned an already critically acclaimed piece of storytelling. Each word that Mc Manus speaks seems measured and necessary. The audience will laugh at the absurdity of the situation she has found herself in, but remain aware of those tragic notes that accompany this youth, unsure of how to address life for having lived on the sidelines for so long.
You Didn’t Ask To Be Here
Allan Mackey’s You Didn’t Ask To Be Here was a good pairing to this play in terms of theme. Megan Carty, as the undefeatable Charlie, tells a slew of interconnected tales about coping with fear and loss, knitting them together with moments of often comical reflection. No less comical are her interactions with The Great Enemy (voiced by Ron Langton), who insists on raining on her parade from on high.
However, the simplicity of Donkey Derby makes YDATBH seem almost overwrought by comparison, with dance interludes, prop acting, audience interaction, and dynamic shifts in perspective. That being said, this also showcases Carty’s ability to multitask. She is constantly asked to maintain a steady stream of monologue while taking on impromptu costume changes and manipulating complex props. At one point, she even manages to arrange of line of dominoes on a particularly wobbly surface without prematurely knocking them over or missing a beat on her lines. (Props to you, Carty.)
While the narrative is thought-provoking, the complex digressions that Charlie launches into can be distracting. This is disappointing at times, but can also be seen as speaking to the overall message; these digressions allow Charlie to suppress her anxieties, keeping her from confrontations she isn’t ready for.
Two sides of the same coin, PAIRED UP is a curious evening of two very different plays tackling two very similar ideas. It is well worth seeing how both of these plays approach issues of fear and social alienation. Together, they give a more complete picture of these issues than either could have done alone.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think? Did you enjoy these two very different one woman shows? Could you relate to their approaches talking about fear and anxiety? Join the discussion and let me know in the comments below.