This one-woman show is written and performed by one of last year’s new Traverse 50 writers, Eva O’Connor. It’s an affecting story of a young girl’s coming of age, her tale of growing up in rural Ireland without a mother. The name Saoirse is no accident – the word means “freedom” in Irish, and like those other names which seem so promising at birth – Faith, Chastity, Hope – it proves a lot to live up to.
We meet Saoirse in her sewing room, in the attic of her family home, working on a patchwork quilt, boxes of fabric strewn about the floor. O’Connor uses the simple set-up to great effect, moving to the different areas of Saoirse’s sewing room like stations of the cross. Here, we learn that Saoirse’s mother had a tricky home birth with her older brother, then an even trickier hospital birth with Saoirse. Over here, we hear about the difficulty of growing up a girl in a house with no women and a father distant thanks to the girl’s unlucky resemblance to her departed mother. Sat at her sewing machine, we learn about Siobhan, Saoirse’s trouble-making best friend from across town, who’s a kind of sister, surrogate mother and not-quite-but-maybe unrequited lover all in one.
There’s nothing particularly original about the tale – girl without a mother finds adolescence difficult and makes mistakes she wished she hadn’t – but there’s such a lovely, elegiac quality to O’Connor’s tone and tempo that it’s hard not to be swept up in the details of Saoirse’s life. And while O’Connor’s Saoirse is a soft-spoken, wide-eyed innocent, she’s wholly believable as such thanks to the well-judged writing. There’s a lyrical, grounded quality to her story, like an old Irish folk song or an ancient epic poem. Saoirse may be a young girl, but she’s also a bard, the keeper of her own tale, which keeps the heroine’s late show of strength from veering into something overly sentimental.
The play is on at the Scottish Storytellers Centre, which feels fitting: watching O’Connor knit her story together via the metaphor of patchwork quilts – “making a quilt is like life, you get some good patches and some bad patches, but it comes out okay in the end” – it makes you think about how strange it is that we have separate words for playwright and storyteller when, at their best, they both achieve the same ends.