Many reviews have already waxed lyrical about Margaret Perry’s play Collapsible, currently playing in West London’s Bush Theatre Studio. Having premiered at the VAULT Festival in 2019, it went on to play a smash-hit run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe (amongst others), and performer Breffni Holahan was awarded The Stage Edinburgh Award for Acting Excellence.
Alison Neighbour’s exquisite set has Essie (Holahan) sat high on a grey piece of rock, surrounded by mud and two large splinters that tower either side of her. She can’t get down, and Thomas Martin’s direction sees her inching herself towards the edge of the rock, her toes dipping down into the dark unknown before she quickly snaps them up again, retreating to her small but safe space.
Essie has lost her job, and her girlfriend has left her. It’s a classic start to a story that’s been told before, but this time it feels oh so different. Perry’s writing is sharp, witty, and has you burst into laughter before you fully comprehend what the joke is about. Containing many observations about contemporary life, such as the endless Buzzfeed-style quizzes Essie takes to the scathing impressions of a hipster male running a start-up.
Beginning to lose her sense of self (and feeling more like a chair than a person), Essie decides to ask those closest to her – friends, family, ex-lovers – to describe her in one word. Claiming it’s research for her job interviews, it’s more about trying to recognise herself again. But though these words – ‘practical, no-nonsense, perfectionist, smart’ – are at first comforting, Essie begins to realise that they could apply to anyone, and don’t describe her fully at all.
Perry’s play (a monologue) is unusual in that it both explores such a huge, relatable subject whilst at the same time not moving to any particular point at all, presenting us with a series of moments from Essie’s life. These include past moments of Essie’s relationship, which see her stretching out on the rock, recounting intimate moments. But it’s absolutely riveting to watch, and without Holahan in the role, I don’t think the piece would be quite the same.
Holahan is extraordinary in this role, captivating and hilarious, dropping huge remarks (‘I want to jump clean out of my brain’) in the same way she would an offhand joke. It’s a complete privilege to watch her at work, though of course it looks so easy. It feels as if she could be your friend, but then her face twists and contorts (aided by Alex Fernandes’ stunning lighting design) and it’s truly horrifying to watch. With all the talk of climbing inside someone else’s skin you question what route the play will venture down.
A riveting piece of writing with a fantastic design and outstanding performance, this is perhaps my favourite show I’ve seen this year – so far.