Pinching for my Soul

Eala Productions present Elizabeth Moynihan's new play 'Pinching for the Soul'. Photo: Kelly Campbell

Eala Productions present Elizabeth Moynihan's new play 'Pinching for the Soul'. Photo: Kelly Campbell

Ever prayed to be stricken by a 24-hour bug or searing migraine so that you could put life on hold for just one day? The pressures of modern life sometimes exhaust a person’s soul to the point where physical immobility is preferable to the prospect of having to get out of bed and start the day all over again. Such is the case for Brona, the well-heeled politician’s wife played by Geraldine Plunkett in Elizabeth Moynihan’s new play, Pinching for my Soul. “Sometimes I dream I am disabled,” she declares. “I often think, 'if that disabled dream were true then I could be awful sad and depressed.' It would be an awful blow that fate had dealt me.” Brona’s words echo around the tiny stage and their sentiments seem to materialise in the dismembered male mannequin that dominates it. A rail full of empty wire hangers but for a single yellow dress, a picture frame suspended mid-air, and some strategically placed white shaker chairs complete the set.

Struggling with the mundanity of everyday life, Brona has turned to petty theft and Pinot Grigio as a coping strategy for a mind that is finding it hard to come to terms with a midlife breakdown. The audience is fed the line that she steals to feel alive; to feel something. Shania is a strung-out heroin addict whose family provide her with a daily list of swag to nick. Played by the ‘a-bit-on-the-radiant-side-for-a-junkie’ Emma Colohan, she describes her drug-addled sickness in graphically detailed soliloquies: “The marrow in your bones goes all spongy...” On the neutral ground of a generic shopping centre these two women, from opposite sides of the Liffey, pursue a shared compulsion: pinching. Unaware of each other’s existence, Shania and Brona operate under the watchful eye of Chike (Seun Shote), a black Irish security guard with a ‘Lahndan, innit’ intonation. The womens’ actions provide the inspiration for Chike’s would-be novel, as he spends tea breaks typing out plot lines and obsessing over his pair of muses.

Under the harsh clarity of Colm Maher’s lighting, Chike’s occasional sexual remarks have a tendency to morph from playful to sinister as the suspended picture frame on set provides a voyeuristic prop from which he gazes at his subjects. In the tiny theatre which smells faintly of burnt musk in the diminishing heat of a hazy July evening, it quickly becomes apparent that this play is not merely about the intricacies of shoplifting. Rather it addresses sickness; sickness of the soul brought on by the thoughts of having to adhere to a predetermined fate. In an indeterminate state between what Chike’s mind recalls about the two shoplifters and what it constructs, the lines between what is real and what is fiction become increasingly blurred. Attending a partner’s funeral in shackles, a mid-afternoon rape, the anguish of a family dealing with a drug-addicted daughter are all described in detail as Chike drives his female leads into ever-deepening depths of despair.

Dara Rooney’s costume design epitomises the disparate worlds of the two shoplifters. One clad in leopard print and velour whilst the other wears a drearily sophisticated ensemble complete with beige, floral neck scarf. Treatment of language, too, adds to the obvious polarisation of the characters. A clipped south Dublin dialect clashes like red on pink with a skaggy north inner-city drawl. Never straying from their contrived accents, a dialogue-heavy hour and 25 minutes is handled admirably by all three actors.

The clichés are purposefully hackneyed; the clothes, the accents, the social deficiencies of the two women are all neatly packaged by the equally stereotyped security guard, whose accent and skin pigment belie his constant claims of Irish heritage. Moynihan’s reason for pigeon-holing her female characters is apparent; the rationale behind the stereotyping of Chike, the intertextual author, is more opaque. His character exists as a devil’s advocate device to highlight the assumptions society makes based on a person’s gender and socioeconomic class. Specifically, his distilling of the two shoplifters into the abridged characters of Brona and Shania – with their polarised names – emphasises the linear way in which rich women and poor women are viewed by society. While the stereotyping of Chike’s character – a security guard who letches on customers, a man who doesn’t understand women – perhaps adds another layer to the underlying crux of the narrative, it also slightly clouds the overall message that Moynihan seeks to convey. The typecaster has been typecast.

Although the playwright’s study of reality and fabrication is thought-provoking, the effort required to keep tabs on the dual functions of each character dilutes the effect somewhat. Nonetheless, the eventual mutiny of Shania and Brona against their creator highlights a refusal by these two women to be sold as characters whose circumstances can be so neatly categorised. Under the direction of Blanche McIntyre, Plunkett, Colohan and Shote play their purposefully pigeonholed parts with such gusto that the practice of stereotyping through gender, race and class are shown to be theories as one-dimensional as the women in Chike’s novel-in-progress.

Sheena Madden works with RTÉ Radio and writes on theatre and music for a number of publications. She recently completed a BA in Journalism.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Pinching for my Soul by Elizabeth Moynihan

29 June - 16 July, 2011

Produced by Eala Productions
In Focus Theatre

Directed by Blanche McIntyre

With: Emma Colohan, Geraldine Plunkett and Seun Shote