at Hill Street Theatre, Wednesday 14th August 2013
*Originally written for A Younger Theatre*
Young women committing acts of violence on small animals seems to have become a bit of a running motif throughout this year’s festival. After the grotesque ending of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag comes Haley McGee’s Oh My Irma, which features a similarly damaged young woman who ends up taking out her anger on a similarly unsuspecting victim. But though the themes are similar, there’s enough that this piece does differently to make it an interesting watch after the former’s brazen honesty.
“I did it,” announces our narrator at the top of the piece, paralysed with stage-fright and angry that the techies have ruined the opening. Her mission is to explain how and why she did “it” as she recounts the story of a man who slept with her mother (Irma) and then gave his dog the same name, leaving her confused and frustrated. She follows Irma’s tendency for self-harm, too, as small acts of self-sabotage allow her to regain control over her life.
For the most part, a colloquial delivery style (“I was like…”, “He was like…”) allows our narrator to tell her story, but she often strays into other storytelling forms like performance art and beat poetry in order to express herself. This is an extremely self-aware performance, making the most of the form whilst also ridiculing it. There’s a sense that this character is very much aware she is performing, having rehearsed various moves and gestures in order to get her point across. There are fault lines, however, like when she drops her guard in order to find an audience member who will touch her arm allowing moments of genuine emotion to break free.
The text is littered with unexpected phrases, as McGee allows lines like “Well gag me with a wooden spoon” and “Rich people sleep on such clouds” to find their way into the piece. Her performance is subtle in its comedy, letting small pauses and glances do the work rather than gurning or shouting. Like Fleabag, we see a picture of someone who has gone through a lot brushing it off with confidence.
The monologue is sometimes a little obtuse, but then this sort of works in the context of this woman telling us her story. Either way, Oh My Irma is an intricately written and beautifully performed examination of self-destruction due to the mistakes of others. Haley McGee is one to watch.