Theatre review: Oh My Irma
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Oh My Irma at Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41), reviewed by David Pollock
In this defiantly distinctive solo show, Canadian actress Haley McGee has devised an utterly singular character in Mission Bird. Like a caged animal in too-thick geek’s glasses, shorts and a staid hairdo reminiscent of Velma from Scooby-Doo, she is at once recognisable and alien, easy to relate to yet capable of some baffling life choices. The youthful optimism of her demeanour is perfectly balanced with the sense that her less than satisfactory upbringing is just there below the surface, being compulsively scratched at by the character herself.
A teenager whose mother, Irma, died in the most suspicious of circumstances, Mission Bird leads us through a story that is part murder mystery, part family saga and part weird coming-of-age drama. She has selected a target who she thinks is responsible for the wrongdoing, and she keeps repeatedly breaking into his apartment with the most unexpectedly unintended – sometimes to a dramatically unpleasant degree – consequences. When she vomits in his nice shoes while hiding in a cupboard or murders his pet dog (also called Irma) while trying to coerce it to be quiet, McGee plays the character with such tender humanity that it’s hard not to feel waves of empathy even as we recoil.
Originally performed as a five-minute cabaret piece in McGee’s native Toronto, Oh My Irma was expanded into its current full-length form in 2010 and performed around the world, winning the Best Production award at the off-Broadway United Solo Theatre Festival, the world’s largest solo theatre festival.
It survives the transition to this longer format, for McGee has built up a work that’ is overwhelmingly about character, and the fact she has created someone so unique and fully-formed only means that Mission Bird’s sense of identity stamps itself upon the viewer even as she patrols the stage, a knot of tension, wielding her suitcase like a shield and slamming down some beat poetry at unexpected moments.
That the conclusion becomes obvious to the audience before she gets a chance to put two and two together in her mind works to the advantage of the show, for this young lady is lost in her own self in the way only children can be, while being forced to grow up before her time. Yet the physicality and the bold language of the piece is both bleakly amusing and indicative of a character who is at heart demanding of our sense of protection.
Originally published in The Scotsman