Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review Theatre: Pondling at Underbelly, Cowgate (venue 61), reviewed by Susan Mansfield
Madeleine is an ugly duckling, but she is convinced that she’s really a swan. She spends her days on her grandfather’s dairy farm, hanging daisy chains on the fences and making friends with the chickens, wearing frocks and patent shoes and dreaming that one day Johnno Boyle O’Connor will return her affections.
But there’s nothing idyllic about this childhood. Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, performing her own one-woman play for Dublin-based company Guna Nua, shows us another story which shines a light through the cracks in Madeleine’s view of life: a strange, lonely child who doesn’t think twice about killing a stray cat, who regularly “collects” things from the local shop (without paying) and lives life in the grip of her vivid, dangerous imagination.
In her lemon-coloured frock and practical brown jumper, one moment she is innocent and vulnerable, the next knowing and dangerous. When she spies a smartly dressed woman in the park who fulfils all her fantasies of beauty and sophistication, she sets out to recruit a mother figure to fill the gap in her life.
Hulme-Beaman’s play, the winner of this year’s Stewart Parker Award for new writing in Ireland, captures the world of a girl on the awkward cusp between childhood and adolescence. Enhanced by Paul Meade’s sensitive direction and Colm McNally’s design, Pondling is never predictable, and despite Madeleine’s romantic imagination, utterly unsentimental. Above all, she has created a voice which is completely assured.
Madeleine (if that is her name, for it might just be what she calls herself) is not necessarily a reliable narrator of her own story, but her voice is entirely her own. It’s part of the play’s great achievement that we also begin to see beyond her vision to a lonely child who is, despite the difficulties of her life, able to dream, imagine and hope.
Until 24 August.
Originally published in The Scotsman