Palais du Variete, Assembly, George Square Gardens, Edinburgh
Myra’s Story is a compelling play, and Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley is perfectly cast, delivering the ninety-minute monologue with wit and aplomb.
Myra’s story is a commonplace tragedy: she’s an alcoholic on the streets of Dublin, drinking to numb herself, to mask her problems. But, in the words of John Irving (and, later, Voice of the Beehive), ‘sorrow floats’ – and Myra soon discovers that she can’t drown her emotions in vodka. Instead, her troubles multiply, and she finds herself homeless, stumbling from hostel to park bench and back again. She’s the woman on the street from whom we avert our collective gaze, but here, in Brian Foster’s play, we are forced to look. To listen. To learn about the person behind the bottle. To see that she is just like us.
Hewitt-Twamley’s performance is flawless; she has a particular gift for eliciting empathy, as well as for delivering an impressive range of other voices. Foster’s writing is strong, and the story matters (it’s wonderful to see that the production has two Edinburgh homelessness charities as partners, namely Social Bite and Steps to Hope).
There’s only one problem here, and it’s the venue.
This is an intimate but popular play, which always poses a conundrum: it’s difficult to find a space that can accommodate a large audience as well as allowing the personal, confidential nature of the material to shine. Some compromise is needed. However, the Palais du Variete is not a compromise: it’s just wrong. It’s a huge brash place, gorgeously mirrored and with a large bar area, perfect for a late night variety show, and utterly wrong for a lunchtime monologue. There’s a party-vibe that seems at odds with the play; this is surely a piece that demands our full attention, but most people are clearly out for a laugh, knocking back pints of beer or glasses of wine, and there are loads of latecomers, trooping past us again and again, obscuring our view. Then there’s the endless trips to the bar and the toilet, causing further disruption, so we keep missing little moments and nuances.
I’m also irritated, I have to admit, by the fact that there are is no mention (beyond a pre-recorded line that everyone talks over) of the fact that masks are still a legal requirement here in Scotland, and that – apart from when people are actually drinking – they should be worn throughout the performance. Almost every other Fringe venue (including other Assembly sites) has someone on the door politely reminding people, and the vast majority comply. Here, it’s ignored, and the audience take their cue from that. It doesn’t feel particularly safe.
So there’s a disconnect between the quality of the play and the quality of the experience. The star rating below is for an excellent script, delivered with consummate skill. But I won’t be going back to the Palais du Variete.