Written by Brian Foster
Look down; you’ll see a sea of people you can’t look in the eye. Perhaps you’ve invented a text on your phone, or maybe you suddenly have to itch the right side of your face. We’ve all done it. We’ve all felt the momentary blip of guilt. But for once, take the time to hear someone’s story – Myra’s Story. Not one of begging and judgements, but one of the women who once was and the losses she endures.
Legendary, the manipulation and seeding of impassioned comedy is an Irish staple, an ability to laugh whilst crying tears of sorrow a twisted skill. And it’s precisely what Myra’s Story excels in, not harming or upsetting for the sake of melodrama, but by sharing experiences and the rawness of humanity. To place oneself into the role of Myra, Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley has a multi-dimensional role ahead. Too much humour and the production turns into a farcical poverty-porn parody, not enough, and the audience will be left woefully disheartened. The balance of authentic humour masterfully adds to the pathos and raises the spirits for the sentiments to crash, making for a hard-hitting, but still engaging production.
Structurally, the direction follows a clean path in world-creation, transitioning between Myra’s past and present in waves, similar to those flushes of sobriety that channel the agony of memory. Her ‘medicine’, supplied directly from Russian distilleries, causes the memories to silence momentarily. The haziness presents itself as lighting flourishes, barely noticeable and subtle enough to maintain a sense of flow. A story as richly crafted and performed as this seldom requires any measured extras of effects or audio.
There’s a perversion in this culture towards alcoholism – the easy way to a joke, written off as banter as a national pastime – when in reality, its place as a significant terminal illness in both Scotland and Ireland isn’t challenged, or more importantly, discussed and treated. Brian Foster’s writing captures the challenges with the demon drink, but more than this, it reflects the attitudes of those watching. In turn, Myra’s Story is equally about us as it is about Myra herself.
At ninety minutes, a sure-fire sign of excellent direction and writing is the compact nature of the text, Myra’s Story doesn’t feel like an hour and a half and communicates all it needs to without filling the silence with padding. Every dimension of the narrative is naturally laid bare, offering an unexpectantly warming presence with the occasional snippet of cold, biting realism. Hewitt-Twamley cascades the voices of thousands onto the audience, offering the one thing the destitute cannot secure – visibility.
Myra’s Story could easily be another woman’s – as difficult it is to imagine. We would wish a thousand other curses before thinking of a mother, a daughter, a friend, or lover as being broken down and desolate. But it’s a reality, and this hard-hitting truth makes for an exceptionally raw production that seeks not to depreciate but provide a sense of autonomy to a middle-aged woman, an addict, but nevertheless a human being.
Myra’s Story runs on select dates at Assembly Spiegeltent George Square Gardens until August 29th. Tickets are available here.