“I am having prehistoric thoughts about myself”, declares the powerful voice of Olwen Fouéré’s Girl to the still barren set, save for a desk at its forefront. As the voice echoes through the Abbey stage, Fouéré slowly comes to view behind a haunting projection of her profile staring into the audience, while expressing a desire to return to the simplicity of a Neanderthal existence. “We make up the stories we need to because we are terrified”, states Girl exemplifying the production as an exploration of human and female identity through myths told throughout time.
Lone performer Fouéré is initially wrapped in a burgundy cape, which she opens to reveal the intricate work of costume designer Catherine Fay, uncovering a silver corset with chainmail sleeves and exposed breasts. This creates a poetic juxtaposition between the armour-like costume and the wild femininity it showcases, complemented by the sheer range of Fouéré’s performance.
The structure of iGirl is intrinsically disjointed, producing different fragments of narratives throughout time with Fouéré incarnating several enduring and emblematic female figures of our cultural and social fabric. The first of these fragments is Antigone, the “stubborn girl”, closely followed by Fouéré’s skilfully delivered lines in French constituting the beginning of the Jeanne D’Arc narrative. This picture of the young girl is haunting and intimate in the emphasis it places on the description of her burning at the stake in juxtaposition with Fouéré’s pained cries of “I burn Maman!” Furthermore, Fouéré’s portrait of Persephone is a subversive image of female desire and the darkness within it.
This fragmented narrative structure also develops the incestuous story of Oedipus and Jocasta, wherein Carr’s words highlight the paradoxical nature of their relationship, notably through “I, Oedipus, son of my wife, brother of my daughter and sons”. Fouéré plunges head-first into her telling of Oedipus’ story imbuing it with a delivery reminiscent of the Homeric epics, seamlessly complemented by Carr’s enduring prose harking the oral history of such myths. Her further incarnation of Jocasta emphasises the convolution of this perpetual cycle of blood meshing within their relationship while adding a deeply moving layer to the character.
Joanna Parker’s visceral projected videos enhance the timeless quality of the production, while the haunting visuals of Fouéré. Indeed, as the latter sits on the desk at the forefront smoking a cigarette, the smoke seemingly conjures an image of Girl on all fours, rotating. This imagery at times detracts from Fouéré’s performance, such as in the comic relief misdial where Girl’s face is projected onto the black screen behind her through a camera in the desk lamp she is sat behind. This instance breaks the trance of Fouéré’s performance and distracts the audience from the comic statements in the vein of “are you Demeter? Because if you are, I have a bone to pick with you!”
Fouéré’s performance is deeply moving as she inhabits Girl and the various mythical and historical figures, becoming every one of Carr’s disjointed and intensely penned characters. The athletic aspect of her performance is boldly animalistic, featuring captivating interludes where Fouéré crawls and paces as if stalking her prey. This comes to a crux as Fouéré stalks the stage with her cape as her weapons, to the background of battle sounds and suspenseful music.
With timeless statements such as: “Do we exist? Or are we just a dust on the eyelash of God?”, Carr’s enigmatic prose shines through Fouéré as the backbone of the production, complimented through Caitríona McLaughlin’s masterful direction. Carr’s words are contemporary, temporally rooted yet eternal, nailing the condition of human existence they articulate. This creates a simultaneously ephemeral and eternal piece of theatre, powerful and intense and in every way meriting the standing ovation Fouéré’s performance received on the Abbey stage.
iGirl runs until October 30th at the Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival.