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Grianne Maguire: We Need To Talk About Bonnets

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Jay Richardson

Considering I began this show in a state of relative ignorance – I’ve read Jane Eyre but my knowledge of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and the Brontës is decidedly sketchy – you would have been hard pushed to convince me how much I’d ultimately enjoy this solo debut from Grainne Maguire.

Greeting the audience in a flowing cape at the threshold of her cavernous, supposedly tuberculosis-inducing venue, Maguire is a girlishly excitable presence, eager to extol the great works of 19th century literature, offering her own throwaway summaries of Cliffs Notes-style commentary. Despite poking fun at the clichés of bonnet fiction, she’s nevertheless dismayed that such romantic conventions and the tragedy overload of Jude The Obscure haven’t prepared her, a highly-strung colleen from small town Ireland living in London, for the realities of modern life.

With her skittish enthusiasm and the lightweight nature of her early material, this promises to be an intermittently amusing hour at best. Some of the similes she employs are marvellous, others awful and almost all of them stretch her contrived premise to breaking point, part of the enjoyment coming from seeing how far she can sustain it. A multiple choice quiz in which she tries to define audience members by their corresponding March sister from Little Women is funny enough women’s magazine spoof, but it undoubtedly works better when more of the audience know the source material.

The quality rises up a notch though when Maguire ceases relating this fiction to abstract notions of love and trivial, everyday matters, and begins applying these romantic ideals directly to her own life – her troubled relationship with her mother, her excessive drinking and regrettable sexual encounters, the bastard of an ex whose faults she was blinded to.

While the former primary school teacher still indulges herself playfully, playing a hungover Emily Brontë regretting a (relatively) lusty letter sent to the vicar, or trying stand-up as Lydia Bennett, her material on gender difference reflecting the massive sexual inequality of the time, there’s an occasional edge to her delivery now. Less a fond ‘reader, I married him’, more a blunt ‘he fucked me’.

Ultimately, she’s become the tragic heroine she always wanted to be and it’s scarcely the gratifying feeling she expected. Although there’s a resolution and reconciliation of sorts, what truly impresses is the manner in which Maguire succeeds in combining daft skits like her Bellylicious Beyonce pastiche and dry ice shrouded Victorian mini-melodrama, with heartfelt howls of personal pain. This is one madwoman in the attic you don’t want to ignore.

Review date: 30 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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