The Other Room opens the Winter season with two familiar names - writer Matthew Bulgo and director Dan Jones. Emily Garside reviews one-woman show The Awkward Years:

A one-woman show about lurching from disaster to disaster, writer Matthew Bulgo weaves a combination of funny, honest and moving narrative of that period where you’re an adult but not quite a grown up. And the things that can so easily derail a life. It’s The Awkward Years.

Dan Jones directs The Awkward Years with a combination of precision and empathy. It’s a piece that needs a balance of freedom for the story and the performance to unfold, but also benefits from the exacting nature of Jones’ direction to keep it driving forward. Hilary Statts keeps the abstract, futuristic set stark and simple, allowing Jones to frame the dialogue and performance at centre stage – Jones is an intelligent director and knows these are the elements to centre. Placing Lauren O’Leary against the grey and white slope, itself given features by lighting from Angharad Evans and an often-haunting soundscape from Tic Ashfield, creates an evocative and powerful atmosphere. The use of movement, again abstract and often jarring, contrasts with the familiar and emotive nature of Bulgo’s writing and O’Leary’s endearing performance.

Awkward Years Other Room

Lauren O’Leary (image courtesy of Kirsten McTernan)

As Lily, O’Leary is a force of nature. She tears into the dialogue, pulling the audience through the story. She embodies the tale she tells, exploring it with the confusion, anger and sadness that Lily goes through. But then O’Leary she pauses and invites the audience in for a moment, balancing these aspects with intelligence. When she breaks character with a brief nod to the audience, an aside – usually about how clever or funny Lily is being – it’s perfectly timed as she snaps back into Lily’s world. While weaving the story with the ease of many older performers, O’Leary also keeps Lily authentic. We feel as if we are a flatmate, a one-night stand, her Mum. Within moments, seeing her hungover on the floor, much of the audience is on side, through virtue of recognition at their own ‘awkward years’.

Bulgo’s The Awkward Years uses this element – that streak of recognition in the audience – well. Whether it’s waking up with a ‘random’ sticking out (quite literally) from the bed; that familiar feeling of sick rising in your throat; the awkward flatmate and her boyfriend; not knowing the street names when you emerge from a house party. It’s all there, those awkward to disaster years, the times it all seems to spiral. There’s a universality to this side of the play. It’s incredibly funny, incredibly realistic and incredibly endearing.

Awkward Years Other Room

Lauren O’Leary (image courtesy of Kirsten McTernan)

Yet underneath the lurching from awkward encounter to awkward moment is a darker tale. It sneaks up on you in the writing – Bulgo cleverly navigates the mystery of what has led Lily to this particular moment of unravelling. It’s a double reveal when it comes, although the second mooment isn’t necessary over-used as it often is in female stories. But that doesn’t detract from power of The Awkward Years, or the skill with which Bulgo writes. Right to the end it’s witty, real and never veers into sentimental or over-wrought.

Bulgo has a skill at taking the deceptively simple and using it to unravel bigger statements, wider questions about what makes us human. In The Awkward Years Lily wrestles with what love is – the answer, and what it leaves us with, is devastating but beautiful.

★★★★☆

The Awkward Years runs at The Other Room until 29 September 2018. For more information and tickets, visit the website here.