Review: Killymuck (Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh Fringe)

Kat Woods’ autobiographical memoir runs as part of the fringe

© Javier Ortega Saez

The Serenity Prayer hung, framed, on the wall of Kat Woods' childhood home: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change," it starts. It's a potent symbol in a piece that centres on social immobility. Killymuck insists we're all constrained by the circumstances of our birth. Society – still – confines us by class.

Like Édouard Louis' acclaimed memoir The End of Eddy, a stage adaptation of which comes to the International Festival later this month, Woods' autobiographical monologue looks back on a childhood in poverty. Set on the Killymuck estate in Enniskillen, "a dumping ground on the edge of town" that's rumoured to have been built on top of a Victorian paupers' graveyard, it asks how far society has come since the days of slums.

That question's couched in personal terms. Woods grew up in a small flat, living with her alcoholic, abusive father and a mother who had it harder than she ever fully knew. They were a family dismissed as "benefits bastards", living on food stamps and hand-outs and so held back at every turn. Through childhood memories – some small-fry, some searing – Woods shows us the spin-cycle of poverty; the way day-to-day difficulties turn into major obstacles. Every incident knocks onto the education her father so valued.

Whether it's teachers looking down on her because of her hardship, or local bully boys who push her to retaliate her way into detention, Woods winds up disadvantaged at every turn. In a school with 200 students and one computer, she finds herself at the bottom of the pile, panicking at the pressure of her 11-plus and missing the grades to get into a grammar school.

Sparkily played by Aoife Lennon, who invests the past with the sharpness of still raw memory, Woods brings that childhood to vivid life: a whirlwind of White Lightning and other cheap highs. Her writing catches a child's eye view of the world – the way youth's idyll is punctured by significant incidents you only half grasped. Small sensory pleasures – the smell of sweet peas or the taste of Petits Filous – sit on a par with adult events: suicides, sex workers, domestic abuse. Her father looms over the play – terrifyingly unpredictable and pathetic at once.

Despite sporadic commentary sections that fold key sociological stats into the story – poverty, for instance, can knock 14 points off your IQ – Killymuck doesn't always stick to its own (enormous) question of social immobility. Yet, it leaves little doubt that the obstacles of poverty stacked the odds against Woods, as they do many others. The Serenity Prayer goes on to call for the "courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference". The immobility Killymuck exposes can be changed. It should be.

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