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Savage truth of life as Mary Motorhead

MARY Motorhead is in jail, serving a six-year sentence for having tried to murder her husband by embedding a carving knife in the top of his skull.

She left school at 14, worked for years in a factory making widgets, and lived with her soul bursting out of her chest in the flat midland landscape without views of anything except the odd patch of heather, while the town's buildings were as bleak as the landscape that surrounded them.

And Mary is trouble, trouble that began when she head-butted the little girl who beat her to a bronze medal in the shot putt at the Community Games.

Mary Motorhead is Mark O'Halloran's companion piece to his The Head of Red O'Brien, and it has to be admitted that it would not stand up as well in isolation as it does for those who have met Mary's husband in the mental hospital where he is convalescing from his wife's murderous attack.

Knowing the detail of the couple's emotional illiteracy and mutually destructive lack of articulation as described by Red is a touching adjunct to understanding Mary's late-learned grasp of reality when she takes a course in history and archaeology in prison, and comes to conclude that there is large history (men's), and small history which is the stories that make up all our lives.

And in that "small" history, she believes, the same things keep us going, past and present: things like jealousy and loneliness. But even in isolation, it's still an impressive mental journey through raging desperation to acceptance of the world's limitations.

After all her tribulations, Mary's tragic conclusion is that "give a girl enough hope, and she'll hang herself". That chilling thought is her true history, not the screaming newspaper photographs of her leaving court, and their accompanying stories of the "big" history which have made her a headline monster.

O'Halloran has written a savagely emotional piece which points a finger relentlessly and unforgivingly at what the smallness and meanness of our society does to our inner fragility, and director Rae Visser treats it with the necessary and admirable restraint in her production for Truewest (at Bewley's lunchtime theatre in Dublin), while Cora Fenton plays Mary with a prowling rage of rueful self-knowledge . . . although the accent needs a stronger midland intonation.

Sunday Independent