Eggsistentialism

Fri 4th – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Louis Harnett O'Meara

at 22:51 on 11th Aug 2017

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I didn’t know what to expect of this show before I arrived, with the vague idea that it might concern some farcical allusions to Camus and Jean-Paul Satre. This was not the case. As it turned out it was an autobiographical Irish one-woman show, and the title referred to her midlife fertility crisis rather than the modern school of philosophy. With the arrival of the menopause ever more imminent, Joanne Ryan talked frankly through her recent reproductive deliberations with the audience. At times it was funny, well considered and well acted, and managed to hold my attention comfortably. However, these moments seemed to make up the exceptions rather than the rule. Besides this, there was little originality in the content or the execution.

The show opened with Ryan addressing her audience, and then there was an awkward cut to her recorded voice coming from the other side of the room, with a poorly animated cartoon of her inflated head floating across a screen behind her. The visuals throughout the performance seemed like they could have been produced as part of a high-school project. The sound design was also poor. Rather than smoothing out the production it felt ill timed and intrusive for most of the show - which is a shame as there was some potential. Her mother’s disembodied words of advice would sometimes catch the audience out of nowhere with a twinkling of wit.

Ryan’s acting was generally good. Moments in the performance were very moving and her comic timing was often successful. However, considering that she was running through her own life and thoughts I felt that it should have been a lot less forced – the tone was consciously dramatic, rather than casual and conversational, and the jokes lacked substance.

Irish culture and history were relevantly and informatively included in the discussion, moving from the Easter Rising to the country’s constitutional relationship with Catholicism and its regressive domestic attitudes. But rather than being carefully worked into the script these points were ham-fisted, awkwardly forced in by constant reversion to the PowerPoint-style visuals on the screen behind.

Altogether, as much as I appreciated the sentiment and the points it raised, I don’t think it was the show for me. It was a gallant attempt, but many aspects of the show seemed too strained for a smooth ride. A little more refinement was necessary for the show to achieve what it wanted.

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Zoe Boothby

at 11:35 on 12th Aug 2017

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The prospect of an hour-long one-woman show about fertility and the onset of the menopause would strike fear in the hearts of many, and Joanne Ryan’s ‘Eggistentialism’ is no exception. Ryan mulls and muses over the decision to reproduce, and explores the phenomena that make procreation in the modern age so complicated, to mixed results.

If you attended ‘Eggistentialism’ thinking it was going to be a barrel of laughs, you would be sorely disappointed. The show has its comic moments, although a number of Ryan’s jokes fall flat, or feel too try-hard. I would suggest, rather, that its strengths lie instead in Ryan’s performance during the more dramatic segments. The moment that her character learns that she has a half-brother is made intensely moving by the subtly of Ryan’s performance. Similarly, the final scene of the play, where the character attempts to imagine the emotions of new motherhood, is bolstered by Ryan’s understated acting. The central flaw of ‘Eggistentialism’, however, lies in its lack of resolution: when the show opens, Ryan tells us she is unsure whether or not to have a baby; when the show closes, Ryan tell us she is still unsure whether or not to have a baby. Of course, in a personal sense the conclusion is an acceptable one, but dramatically, there nevertheless seems to be something unsatisfying with the lack of movement from beginning to end.

The staging is minimal, as Ryan shares the space with only a couch and a table. The show is accompanied by a projection, and it is through this aid that she explores many of the non-personal themes of her show in more detail. Her running commentary on Ireland’s restrictive contraceptive and abortion legislation is shocking, without being excessively political. The fact that Ireland did not formally criminalise rape until 1981 is particularly harrowing. Whilst the inclusion of such visual aids is helpful in some instances, it could have been more rewarding for the technology to be used sparingly as it often felt superfluous. During intense moments, the screen was a distraction, and Ryan is such a strong performer that she need not constantly rely on such devices. Perhaps the most effective prop is the use of her mother’s voice, which allows for an exploration of a motherhood removed from the present day. Throughout, the voice is used primarily as a comic tool, but in the closing moments of the show, the mother character is particularly moving as she describes the universal feelings of maternal love which transcend time. It is in this cross-generational lens that the show is at its most successful, both comically and dramatically. For example, the funniest moment is a sequence where Ryan reads a baby manual from yesteryears, in which male parenting is described as ‘babysitting’. If this conceit had been further developed and placed at the heart of the show, then it might have made for a more rewarding experience.

‘Eggistentialism’ is one which is sure to divide audiences: though Ryan herself has the charisma and strong enough acting chops to sustain one’s interest over the hour, I would venture that many will find the lack of resolution unsatisfying.

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