After a sold out run at Theatre N16’s Maiden Speech festival in October 2017, the Arts Theatre’s Studio space houses Purple Snowflakes, a one woman, semi-autobiographical show that looks at sexuality, friendship, and the deep complexities of eating disorders and mental illness. The ‘Titty Wanks’ element of the show’s original title may have been dropped but writer and performer Sarah Hanly firmly reminds us of their stupid, outdated outrageousness. Straight away.

Guiding us through various stages of the story, Hanly talks about being regularly forced to deep-throat her (ex)boyfriend’s cock – accompanied by gagging sound effects, her ponderings over the word lesbian, subsequent decision to change it to ‘purple’ and deliberating over her own sexuality. Are you attracted to girls just because one inadvertently gave you an orgasm at 13?

It’s graphic and intense, particularly in describing her eating disorder; a subject often dealt with and offered as hard-hitting. Is Purple Snowflakes hard-hitting? If honesty and complete relevancy must still be labelled so, then I suppose it is.

The tone is mixed. There are good-natured, albeit honest, portrayals of the Irish family unit and their Catholic guilt, which are very funny (“Mam we were doing cocaine off each other’s cocks and fannies all night”, “Don’t tell your father!”) and Hanley’s delivery is sharp and blunt, with the ability to change her manner instantly if a more serious matter crops up. Irish humour also ensures her stories, told to the ubiquitous and mysterious Saoirse, are predominantly received with hilarity by her adoring and enraptured audience.

Purple Snowflakes has been compared to Fleabag and Touch, two pieces from Dry White, the company set up by Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller Bridge. They were celebrated not only for their eye-opening portrayal of female sexuality, but the upfront and revealing nature of it. It’s women-led creativity and lack of appropriation like this that ensures their narrative is out there, telling it exactly how it is. It’s a huge compliment to be compared to such excellent writing as Jones and Bridge’s, but it whiffs of the still-present need to place all strong female writing in the same group, nevermind the varying differences in experience.

The play shows the grossly destructive way women and young girls are treated; how porn especially tells them that they are present during sex for the sake of pure objectification – if they are suffering, who the fuck cares? Most importantly perhaps, it isn’t just instructing us to see and really hear a woman – this woman finally speaks, so it is demanding that we see her as a three dimensional human being too. Hanly’s dealing with tragedy in Purple Snowflakes is selfish and immature, but how else can you behave when you’re in the grip of your own illness? It shows how fundamental it is that we as humans embrace our faults and learn from our mistakes.

Purple Snowflakes is a captivating, important and clever gem with a very talented creative team (which also includes Director, Alice Fitzgerald). It pounds down stereotypes and convention, showing that we need to think outside of the box when it comes to the various uses of hand sanitizer.

 

★★★★★

To read more about Purple Snowflakes, which played at Above the Arts theatre on 3 November 2017, follow the theatre company on Twitter (@PSTWplay)