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Confessionals

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Four stars

The simple but necessary message of Victoria McNulty’s quietly intense piece of stand-up spoken-word drama is beamed at the back of the stage at the end of the show. For the previous hour, McNulty has taken us from Glasgow high-rise to east-end boozer to what happens after closing time. As told in rough-hewn rhymes, what began as a piece for the Visible Women festival at Kinning Park becomes a painfully familiar litany of everyday abuse hiding in plain sight within a bubble of breadline poverty and hand-me-down sectarianism.

Told through the experiences of a central figure of a barmaid who bears witness to drunken excesses, it opens with a recording of independent Irish republican MP Bernadette Devlin speaking to journalists in 1972 after she slapped the then Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling. This happened after Maudling claimed the soldiers who shot dead fourteen civil rights marchers in Derry on what became known as Bloody Sunday had acted in self-defence. One of the journalists questioning Devlin suggested she had acted in an un-lady-like manner.

This introduction is a small but knowing nod, both to institutionalised misogyny and the state violence that normalises it. McNulty brings things up to date, and shows how little has changed. Each umbilically linked monologue is punctuated by songs from Abi Normal, who perches on one side of the stage, guitar in hand like an open mic night turn, but whose words and music lean more to old-school political cabaret.

Directed and produced by Kevin P. Gilday and Cat Hepburn, hosts of Sonnet Youth, the Glasgow-based self-styled ‘spoken word house party’ and ‘literary rave’ where McNulty became a slam poetry champion, McNulty’s debut full-length work speaks plainly without tub-thumping, and is all the more powerful for it. On one level, Confessionals is a near neighbour of Two, Jim Cartwright’s pub-set odyssey, in which two actors played both mine hosts and a roll-call of their establishment’s regulars. By focusing on her barmaid, McNulty’s world is both more intimate and more brutal in a devastating solo turn.

The Herald, July 23rd 2018


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