‘Ladybones’ was originally described to me as ‘a show about OCD and archaeology’. Intrigued, I went along, and ran out wanting to grab strangers by the shoulders and tell them about it. Writer and actress Sorcha McCaffrey tells the story of Nuala, an archaeologist who unearths the skull of a medieval girl. The discovery stays with her, creeping into every aspect of her life. We watch as she wrestles with OCD, her work, and her grasp on normality, and literally holds out her hand so we can join her.
The play’s staging is bare, the venue small, so all eyes are on McCaffrey. As we walk in, she introduces herself and asks us if we’re willing to participate in the performance. This small ice-breaker immediately piques the audience’s interest, and we are curious as to what she will have us do. This is no ‘picking on you in front of a room full of strangers’ gimmick. Instead, we are part of the show, playing Nuala’s therapist, the girl she has unearthed, even explaining the correct usage of a semi-colon in a text message. It’s friendly and unabashed, and it’s effective. We feel like we’re friends with Nuala, which makes the highs ever higher, and her vulnerability even more powerful.
The themes of mental health and particularly OCD are introduced immediately but subtly, so it’s clear the show is not ruled by the topic. It’s always disheartening to see a show about mental health that cannot talk about anything else, but McCaffrey expertly creates Nuala’s world to show us that her life is far richer and fuller than can be described by a medical acronym.
This world-building is impressive to behold. As it’s a one-woman show, McCaffrey embodies a whole host of well-rounded characters. She switches seamlessly from (Hot) Henry and back, puts on a perfect Irish accent for her mother, and makes it seem like the stage is crammed with people. Her physicality is excellent, and the characters feel real as a result – we forget that she is acting.
Another effective tool in the show is comedy. Though the concerns of the play are serious – mental health and murder are no laughing matter – the presentation is hysterical. Nuala crackles into life from the first line of dialogue, reeling the audience into her world with jokes about sex and chocolate. This, interspersed with descriptions of her anxieties and compulsions (green is a bad colour, thirteen is a bad number), creates a complex character whose comic moments never cheapen the more serious aspects of her personality. If anything, the one-liners and the physical comedy help us understand her even more. This makes the climax of the show even more devastating and powerful.
There are too many things I love about this play to put into one review. My closing statement is this: Sorcha McCaffrey is an incredibly talented woman who has created a hilarious, mysterious, and emotional piece. Whilst the tagline is ‘OCD and archaeology’, I came away having witnessed something even more profound. This is a play that utterly deconstructs the concept of normality and weirdness, and shows that human resilience and compassion know no bounds. I cannot recommend it enough.
Ladybones runs until the 26th of August – buy tickets here.
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