Monday, March 20, 2023

I Am Maura – captivating performance in revival of coming-of-age drama (Commedia of Errors at Lyric Theatre) #bcf23

It’s 2005 and schoolgirl Maura is obsessed with Martine McCutcheon. In a welcome revival of this one-woman show by Commedia of Errors, Calla Hughes steps into the role of Maura and pirouettes into a myriad of other characters in this coming-of-age show.

The first twenty minutes or so of I Am Maura establishes the backstories and mannerisms of Emer the goth, best mate Ali, Miss Grey, staring Grainne, funny Shauna and scary Sister Francis, before they accompany Maura on her quest for her very own ‘perfect moment’ (also accompanied by McCutcheon’s number one single). At the same time as Maura searches for lurve, the play introduces more serious themes, with recollections of the Holy Cross dispute that disrupted the lives of primary school children in north Belfast, and Maura’s developing sense of her own identity. With the benefit of 15 years of hindsight, there’s a wonderful observation that it’s nonsense to think that “Northern Ireland could one day be run by women”!

The set’s locker doors open to reveal their secrets, with internal lighting and sound sources adding lots of detail to what might have been a sparse set. Music accentuates the mimicry. Joey from Ógra Shinn Féin is a complete stereotype although accurately earnest and very fun. The liturgical dance scenes are thankfully plural and wonderful in their cringeworthiness. Maura’s conversations with Martine are a relatively thin dramatic device but necessary to voice the character’s introspection.

Calla Hughes’ builds on many of playwright Clare McMahon’s own actions and mannerisms when she played the role of Maura back in 2019, greatly amplifying them and adding a dancer’s sense of expression and movement to what becomes a captivating performance.

As an adult, I Am Maura captures the best and worst of being a teenager, and evokes memories of those (less than) halcyon days in secondary education. But I wonder what some of the younger school-age festival audiences made of this supposedly simpler time before social media, that was perhaps full of a different type or a different level of angst? While McMahon’s play is about longing to “jump off the single wagon”, about impatience to be desired, and to have the same fun everyone else already seems to have secured, ultimately being missed turns out more important that being liked.

I Am Maura (directed by Benjamin Gould) was performed in the Lyric Theatre as part of Belfast Children’s Festival in March 2023. 

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