This is Paradise at the Traverse Theatre – Edinburgh Fringe review
Michael John O'Neill's text has a return run
Michael John O'Neill's monologue about a woman making sense of an abusive relationship at the same moment that the Northern Ireland peace process comes to fruition, had a brief outing at the Traverse last year before going online. Now it's back, in a slightly altered version, which has in the meantime picked up an award for writing.
Amy Molloy's performance as Kate deserves a return. She holds a bare stage for well over an hour with an understated yet deeply detailed portrayal of a woman who is struggling with all the men in her life. There's her dead dad who disapproves of her relationship choices and her boring husband Brendy, who smothers her with kindness she rejects. There's a schoolboy crush, who died in an accident before she could return his affection.
Above all, there's Diver, a drug-addicted low-life, more than 20 years her senior, the man who "took a machete to my expectations", who seduced her when she was barely 16, but the person with whom she is still obsessed. When she hears from Diver's latest teenage squeeze that he has fallen silent and may be dead, she sets off to find him on the weekend that the Good Friday agreement is signed.
Kate is pregnant but fears her baby has died inside her and O'Neill makes a clear parallel between Kate's desire to fix her broken life – "I thought they meant real peace…that even my body might stop breaking for one second" – and the political accord that is ending years of conflict.
Molloy carries this off beautifully, with a realistic delivery that makes brisk sense of the occasionally over-poetic writing and the over-worked analogies. She makes you believe in this character and her longings; her resolution feels hard won and truthful when it arrives.
Nevertheless, there is a sense that the play itself stretches credulity; I didn't quite believe that so resolute a woman would have allowed her life to be derailed by the men within it and the constant references to national politics somehow mirroring her own journey felt strained. Even in Molloy's assured hands, it is a long piece; interesting rather than totally absorbing.