Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Awarded 4 stars – Impressionable
Caroline Burns Cooke, writer and performer, takes centre stage. Tired and exhausted in a shabby black dress, she spends the next hour pouring out her tragedy based on Joanne Hayes and the 1984 Kerry Babies Scandal. It may be inspired by past events, but And The Rope Still Tugging At Her Feet feels very much like her personal memoir. Welcome to her story.
No props, no set, no distractions; this particular kind of work is very much a la mode. Since the huge successes of other one-woman shows (Iphigenia in Splott, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing) transferring all over the world from the Edinburgh Fringe, there has been a surge of hard-hitting, emotional, stoic tales of ordinary women forced into surviving through extraordinary circumstance. In the latest instalment of strong female characters
In the latest instalment of strong female characters, this is a trip to County Kerry and a highly religious upbringing for a young girl who is accused of murdering two newborn babies. Born out of wedlock to a married man, she is the obvious suspect for these heinous crimes. Turning her back on her faith, using her femininity to seduce her boss, giving birth to the child in secret so as not to arouse suspicion from her family – all signs point to Leanne Gray. In a society that clearly places men at the head of the food chain, no fingers point at the married lover or the police, so convinced of their success in catching the criminal that they feel it fine to intimidate the whole family into confessions. That is until the case is thrown out. Until the simple farming family strike back. Until the enquiry brings a raft of support riding on a wave of yellow flowers.
The writing of this play is cleverly conceived. It sticks true to the story while bringing in a flavour of all characters involved, from the schoolteacher Sister Aquinas, desperately trying to teach her students about the dangers of sexual relations, to the radical feminist who organises the protest to support Leanne through her trial and subsequent tribunal. But the real magic in Cooke’s script and accompanying performance is it never strays from Leanne and her plights.
The heroine of this piece is not a tour de force, a Boudica or a Joan of Arc. She is a slip of a girl, fragile and naïve and at breaking point. Despite the pervading, patriarchal point of view, she didn’t use her wiles to trick this married man into her bed; she was simply a young woman who fell in love with one reminiscent of all those heroes from the books she read at school. As she escapes the farm in the middle of the night, doubled over in labour pains from a hidden pregnancy gone wrong, screaming into the wind and the sleet, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this pathetic young thing needs help, tenderness and care. That is the overwhelming empathy that Caroline Burns Cooke is able to conjure up as she stumbles around the stage, crying and pouring out her soul.
From stereotypical Irish dancing to drunken swaying in clubs to barefoot stamping and balletic movement, Caroline Burns Cooke entrances her audience both with her presence and her narration. Her performance leaves everything bare, no emotion unexplored and no crevice to hide in. Powerful and illuminating.
Writer: Caroline Burns Cooke
Director: Colin Watkeys
Reviewer: Daniel Perks
Runs until 22 May 2016