Gone Full Havisham
Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Dublin
A jilted bride's slide into psychosis is vividly depicted, says Emer O'Kelly.
Irene Kelleher has one hell of an imagination. Most readers have speculated about the back-story of the tragically spiteful Miss Havisham in Dickens's Great Expectations, living shrouded and alone in a tattered wedding gown, and presiding over the 20-year-old remnant of what should have been her wedding feast.
Kelleher has done more: her play Gone Full Havisham is happening now, as Emily Halloran, young(ish) and beautiful, barricades herself in the penthouse suite of a glamorous hotel, her wedding gown shredded and her sanity close to the same condition.
It's not a spoiler to say that Emily has been dumped at the altar: it's obvious, even though it doesn't emerge in the text until close to the end. What Kelleher is interested in is how Emily became so pitiable as to slide into victimhood.
The premise is very twenty-first century: it's all the fault of MEN. First her father, who wanted her to be a tough little nut, to stand up and take the knocks, to be interested in fact, not fantasy. To acknowledge mistakes, learn from them and move on. That her mother did almost as much damage (before she died when Emily was only 11) in trying to pull her in the opposite direction, is treated a lot more gently, as is Emily's abandonment by her best friend Elise during their college years…because Emily was too dull and earnest.
Then along came Jack. Jack the Perfect One. He was going to save Emily, take control, protect and mould. And he does. And Emily follows blindly, trying to be his perfect doll, an enhanced image for social media. Except it was never good enough. She felt like the china doll that had belonged to her grandmother, sitting in a display cabinet until the day Emily destroyed her to get away from her hectoring gaze.
Except that she doesn't get away from Jack, not even when he forces her into an unnatural thinness. And on the morning of the wedding, Emily stands alone, unable to recognise herself, inside or out.
It doesn't matter; because Elise is there to break the bad news: no Jack. And Emily has gone Full Havisham.
The play does stretch credulity at times, but it is forgivable due to the bravura performance Kelleher turns in with her own work. It's not easy to sustain hysteria without falling into parody as well as boring the pants off an audience. But she manages it under Regina Crowley's direction. There's also imaginative and clever video and sound design by Cormac O'Connor, with the whole thing lit by Paul Denby.
Gone Full Havisham is a Patrick Talbot production.
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