The Magic of A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing translates to the Stage

I went to see The Corn Exchange’s production of A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride back in February at The Mac in Belfast.


I remember very clearly in the stunned silence that followed the last line of the production, the woman sitting next to me turned to her neighbour and whispered ‘Fucking hell.’ Indeed. I couldn’t speak for the tears running down my face and a few seconds later, actress Aoife Duffin was met with a standing ovation.

Aoife Duffin collecting her Stage Award at the Edinburgh Festival Photo: Alex Brenner
Aoife Duffin collecting her Stage Award at the Edinburgh Festival
Photo: Alex Brenner

This week I was delighted to hear that Aoife Duffin has been announced as one of the first winners of The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for her performance in A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing at the Traverse Theatre. The Stage critic Gerald Berkowitz described her performance as a

remarkable marathon and di splay of power as a performer

In Annie Ryan’s striking adaptation, there is nowhere to hide for either performer or viewer. The setting is almost Beckettian – an unspecified time and place – and Duffin assuredly leads us through the narration of the Girl’s life from the age of 2 to the age of 20. Once you hear it spoken, any doubts that Eimear McBride’s striking novel couldn’t be made into a play melt away. In fact, it seems like the perfect manner in which to tell this devastating story.

Written as an interior monologue, it flows easily on stage thanks to the assured adaptation and the marvellous central performance. Duffin inhabits the part of Girl, but also has an uncanny ability to bring the other characters to life with a change of inflection or a slight mannerism, from Girl’s controlling mother, to her dying brother and devastatingly her uncle and abuser.

By allowing the audience to focus more on Girl’s emotions and less of the intricacy of the text, the play centres on the impact of the sexual abuse Girl experiences and how it fractures her idea of her self. As Girl turns to degrading sex to blank out her pain the production becomes an unflinching feminist portrait of a young woman attempting to defeat the demons that have been forced upon her by her grandfather, her mother, her uncle, society.

The what of me is what he takes….

The play itself feels like it is being spoken directly to Girl’s dying brother and the poignancy of their childhood scenes is in direct contrast to the fates that await them. He is the one pure thing in her life and at the end of the play, with an immersion in water – a baptism of sorts – there finally comes a calm. A transition to the whole.

This was a difficult play to watch and yet Ryan and Duffin also captured the often surprising moments of humour in the story. That Aoife Duffin can believably bring to life a foetus,  then a child and then a young woman is testament to her skill, physicality and heart. It is a tour-de-force of a performance and I urge anyone in or around Edinburgh to try and catch it.

Trust me, you won’t forget it.

You can read an interview with Aoife Duffin in the Irish Times here and director Annie Ryan discussed adapting the book in last weeks The Guardian.

Irish Literature

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

20 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I saw this play at last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival and was absolutely blown away by the performance, the staging..everything. I remember thinking at the time that McBride’s use of language was uniquely suited to the stage, although Duffin’s performance really brings it to life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read the book (yet), although I heard great things. And now I’m completely intrigued with this adaptation (thanks to your amazing description – almost feels like I’ve seen it)!


  3. Wow. I didn’t know that the book has been adapted to the stage, that must be a very powerful thing to see. I would love to see it. Very cool. Thanks for the review. – ashley


  4. last went to the edinbourough fringe in 1976 can you imagine? Was with my mother now niety-two and uffering fron dementia but at that time she was up for anything. I remeber seats made out of giant cushions,]… it wad very fine.


  5. That sounds incredible. I would have thought it was a hard novel to dramatise but you’ve convinced me totally. I’ve only seen Aoife Duffin in comedy – sounds like she is an incredible dramatic actor too.


  6. This sounds fantastic! I’ve been buddy reading the book with Rachel and a few others, and she pointed me in the direction of this post. I thought the text was a phenomenal achievement, and can only image how much more immediate and visceral it would feel to see Girl’s inner turmoil play out on stage. I hope I get a chance to see a production of this one day!


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