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Sorcha McCaffrey’s ‘Ladybones’ at Alphabetti Theatre

Written by Arts, Culture, Reviews, Theatre

Last Friday night, the 21st Febuary, was Ladybones’ 14th show and its final performance in Newcastle’s Alphabet Theatre. First running at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, it has since been recorded as an audio drama for Audible’s ‘Theatre at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019’. The one-hour, one-woman play is proudly partnered with OCD UK, working to dismantle some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the disorder.

Written and performed by Sorcha McCaffrey, the production demonstrates that someone is more than just their condition: they can be funny and silly and still experience significant suffering. The play follows a young woman, Nuala, working on an archaeological dig who discovers the bones of a girl buried hundreds of years ago; a girl buried face down with a mouthful of mud, who was likely accused of, and murdered for, being a witch. Nuala constructs the girl’s life from her own experience of feeling ‘other’, like a “weirdo”, something which in past centuries may have seen her tried and killed for being a witch. As such, using humour and observations of her world and the people in it, Nuala shines a light on the comparisons of past and present and understandings of what it is to be ‘other’, blurring the lines between Nuala and the girl.

McCaffrey used her own personal experience of growing up with OCD to create the play and demonstrates while mental health is a struggle, there is always hope for recovery.  McCaffrey says she “wrote ‘Ladybones to show that people are more than just their condition and to dispel the common myths about OCD-it’s often trivialised and misunderstood when it’s a terribly debilitating condition.” 

For a play that addresses OCD, sexuality and loneliness, I expected to be part of a fairly young crowd, but the audience were older than I anticipated. It was pleasantly surprising to know that they too were interested in such topics, as it is often easy to assume that it is only millennials and Gen Z’s that are concerned with exploring and expressing such subjects. Audience participation was voluntary, but most people were up for it; the chances for the audience to get involved to help Nuala on her journey means each performance may be entirely different to the one before. A particular audience member, an upper end of middle aged man called Dave, provided an amusing and uncanny portrayal of Nuala’s Scottish therapist Julia. McCaffrey should consider taking him on tour with her next time!

Using humour and observations of her world and the people in it, McCaffrey shines a light on the comparisons of past and present and understandings of what it is to be ‘other’

Nuala reminded me of many of my friends in her wit and intelligence; comments like: “virginity is a patriarchal, social contrast” and “I want to look inside Hot Henry’s pores” are soundbites that could easily come out of my friend’s mouths. Nuala’s red dungarees and well-loved, scuffed Doc. Martens shouted that she was an “independent woman who doesn’t conform to societal standards” but admittedly “does wear sexy underwear”, another astute reality of how many young women today feel. I often catch myself explicitly pushing against patriarchal standards through my clothing or behaviour, while simultaneously desiring male approval, and as such, Nuala felt like an authentic and tangible young woman trying to navigate womanhood. Despite only encountering the character of Hot Henry through Nuala, a boy who “tastes like he reads the Guardian and had a gap yah”,  I knew exactly the type of entitled, narrow minded and ultimately boring uni boy she was referencing, their attractiveness frustratingly blinding you to their lack of substance or integrity. 

I was moved and struck by the pain and panic McCaffrey so poignantly conveyed within a performance that, for the most part, was extremely humorous.

The set was minimal, with chapters of the play projected onto a screen and the only props being three white cubes, a skull and a can of coke. In the particular performance I saw, an audience member decided that Thea was the name of the girl whose skull it was, a name choice I supported. I too was invited to get involved and was entrusted with embodying Thea through reading out some information about her in the first person. I speculate I was selected as I was the person in the audience who most closely resembled a fourteen-year-old girl. 

While a fair number of audience members nervously laughed at Nuala’s anxiety attack, I assume due to awkwardness, I was moved and struck by the pain and panic McCaffrey so poignantly conveyed within a performance that, for the most part, was extremely humorous. McCaffrey’s talent for both writing and performing was expressed within this moment, as we had become so used to Nuala as a jovial and comedic character, that when we gained insight into her mental struggles it was all the more powerful. Comedy was skilfully woven with moments of deep pain, demonstrating the turbulence that mental illness entails. McCaffrey commented that she ‘want[ed] people to leave with a bit more hope than when they arrived’ and indeed this was upheld; just as Thea ends up in the light, so does Nuala.  

Catch Ladybones on tour in the north of England or listen to the audio drama on Audible. 

Last modified: 25th February 2020

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