Reviewed – 2nd August 2019
“will need a more powerfully unique identity to make a lasting impression”
Essie has lost her job, her girlfriend, most of her savings, and she’s just one more interview away from losing her mind. Written by Margaret Perry, performed by Breffni Holahan, and directed by Thomas Martin, Collapsible is a one-woman show about a world overflowing with information, but short on meaning.
If you missed Collapsible at VAULT Festival earlier this year, you have a second chance to catch it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. One of several HighTide productions in Edinburgh this summer, Collapsible has instances of very good writing, but it’s missing the innovation it needs to stand out above the crowd of shows about middle-class problems.
Alison Neighbour’s set is striking. Echoing a demolition site, there’s rubble on the ground, and broken metal beams framing the space in a triangle. Holahan sits high up on a short, jagged slab of concrete supported by a pole. She remains on this perch for the duration of the show. Her precarious position, surrounded by the remains of a collapsed building, provide effective, creative visual reinforcement of the play’s themes. Holahan, confined to a block just a couple feet square, gives an impressive performance. She holds nothing back in communicating the depth of Essie’s sadness.
The play explores Essie’s narcissism, depression, and experience of depersonalisation as she goes back through her list of contacts (including old teachers and ex-partners) to try to better understand herself. Because narcissism dominates the story, it quickly overwhelms it. The constant rumination on who Essie is precisely – what kind of person she is – makes the scenes more insular than relatable. It results in the show feeling very long for its sixty-minute runtime. The writing is stronger when it moves away from Essie’s quest to define herself. The descriptions of depression (being filled with stones) and depersonalisation are more compelling.
Regrettably, especially in Essie’s relationships with her family, the story is very much in the shadow of Fleabag. Perry may well be giving an authentic account of her own experience, but because something so similar has already been done on such a large scale, the edge is lost. The scenes between Essie and her sister, her friend, and her dad feel derivative. There’s a nagging sense throughout that we’ve seen and heard it all before.
Middle-class emptiness is well-trodden territory; it’s too easy for shows like this one to get lost in the shuffle. Collapsible will need a more powerfully unique identity to make a lasting impression. As it is, Neighbour’s set is the most singular part of the production.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Assembly Roxy until 25th August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019