Part of HighTide's Disruption programme, Margaret Perry's Collapsible sees a young woman slowly disconnecting from those around her. Daniel Perks reviews:

From her concrete plinth, suspended mid-stage, there is a void that separates Essie (Breffni Holahan) from the audience, indeed from society. In Margaret Perry’s Collapsible, Alison Neighbour’s crumbling, disintegrating design perfectly mirrors that internal detachment growing within Essie’s core.

But it takes too long to bridge the gap in this show.

Collapsible Assembly Roxy
Breffni Holahan (image courtesy of Holly Revell)

It’s partly in Thomas Martin’s direction, where individual stories – recollections from Essie’s life – meander along without purpose. It’s partly in Perry’s script, where tales skirt around the point without landing, a seemingly intentional device to keep intrigue that instead prevents a connection with the character. Inviting the audience to surmise where the narrative is heading can be a powerful tool, one where everyone yearns for the conclusion to know if they guessed right. But Collapsible doesn’t provide such a resolved ending.

Collapsible Assembly Roxy
Breffni Holahan (image courtesy of Holly Revell)

That’s not to say the conclusion isn’t impactful – in fact, the final quarter is the strongest in this production. From a darkening path, with Alex Fernandes’ ever-dimming lighting design, blares forth an illumination that catches the audience instantly off-guard.

Deer in the headlights, but suddenly alert and engaged.

And Holahan’s slowly building rage erupts at just the perfect moment. The layers that reveal the true intensity of her disconnection are unmasked and she bursts into monologues of raw, emotional pain. The smile that has been so wistfully on her face for most of Collapsible morphs into a gurning, frantic expression as frightening as Heath Ledger’s The Joker, “Why so serious”? Suddenly the smile reveals her inner vulnerability, as the shield slips away.

Collapsible Assembly Roxy
Breffni Holahan (image courtesy of Holly Revell)

Perry’s Collapsible has observational comedy that plasters over the cracks of a mental crisis, an accurate portrayal of the throwaway, dismissive attitude so often attributed to self-care. But in this one-person show that slowly unravels, it takes too long to elevate itself from more than a series of disparate events. Essie is distant for too long on her crumbling concrete prison.

★★★☆☆

Collapsible is now playing at Assembly Roxy until 25 August 2019, before transferring to the HighTide Festival in Aldeburgh on 10-15 September 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.