Who is the “You” referred to by the young woman at the heart of Caitríona Daly’s new play?
“You are just a Test Dummy,” the voice declares. If addressing herself, then this monologue – a brutal portrayal of an abuse survivor – is brought to a frightening new level of self-loathing: a human accepting themself as a thing to be wrecked.
To refer to the audience as test dummies, however, is to announce the speaker’s startling nihilism, and her insistence that we all share violent and meaningless fates. That’s believable coming from a place of immense suffering, and whether she’s an object or philosopher, it’s hard to take the line that follows: “I am happy to oblige.”
If Daly’s script seems ambiguous, it’s because she’s interested in depicting a fractured mind. Furthermore, this bruising WeGetHighOnThis production, produced in association with Theatre Upstairs, is powerfully intimate. Director Louise Lowe and set designer Laura Honan stage the action in the traverse, putting the audience facing each other. When it comes to slut-shaming and questions of consent, an audience, no less than a society, are to be held to account.
Caitríona Ennis’s young woman is stirringly damaged. First appearing in a silent and glacial walk towards a bottle of Blue Wicked, she cuts a figure distant and traumatised. It’s also a method for Lowe, aided by Honan’s surreal effects (a fridge stocked with peat) and sound designer Carl Kennedy’s drone, to acclimatise the audience for quite an abstract performance. At times, Daly’s writing less resembles speech than it does choreography (“Skull back and surrender”).
The splintered syntax will remind some of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing but where that was explicit in its critique of puritanical Ireland, Daly’s speaker remains vague. “Like back of the church everywhere,” she says, perhaps observing half-hearted religious people or maybe speaking from back of the line for salvation.
Even events around her abuse aren’t clear. “He is 6 + 7,” we’re told, presumably his age, but to be solved either as a sum or a typographer’s note. If that seems deliberately indirect it’s because that Daly, fascinatingly, insists that the world is difficult to access during a state of neurosis.
“Was it the way I laughed?” we’re asked, bravely making the audience implicit in a wider misogynistic culture. Lowe, an impresario of immersive theatre, knows how to make that line hit home. Daly’s daring exploration of internalised shame, from injury to promiscuity, ensures that the audience feel obligated to take it in.
Test Dummy is on until 26th November 2016 at the Theatre Upstairs, Dublin. Click here for more details.