A crumbling concrete platform is the centrepiece of Alison Neighbour’s brilliant set, and sitting atop it is Breffni Holahan. She is Essie – unemployed, recently single and falling apart. Margaret Perry’s one-woman play unravels like a chrysalis, getting the audience to fall in love with the cocoon that is Essie’s life before mercilessly cracking it open. This Essie is in pain, and the audience is drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
If you stare at a painting long enough you start to see its chips and cracks, and that’s exactly how director Thomas Martin positions Holahan. Essie is literally held up on a pedestal, a muse willing to morph into what others want her to be, and Holahan plays it superbly. It’s a performance of the highest calibre, sometimes bitingly funny but always wrapped in sadness. It’s a strangely physical performance too – she may not have much room to move but, thanks to Martin’s measured direction, every tremble of the head or movement of the hands is an intense and important experience.
As the ugliness of Essie’s life threatens to engulf her, Alex Fernandez brings the lights down almost to pitch-black, until there’s a sudden burst of light. The last five minutes of Collapsible are a shock to the system, and will no doubt divide opinion – but it feels right. It’s difficult to decide if the audience are still rooting for her by the end, but that’s the point of this unmissable hour of theatre – it’s about keeping on keeping on, through the darkness and back into the light.