I Am Maura

Clare McMahon
Commedia of Errors
Lyric Theatre, Belfast

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Calla Hughes in Clare McMahon's I Am Maura Credit: Johnny Frazer
Calla Hughes in I Am Maura Credit: Johnny Frazer
Calla Hughes in I Am Maura Credit: Johnny Frazer

Growing up, as the song would have it, is hard to do, and not a little confusing, as Clare McMahon’s I Am Maura from Commedia of Errors at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre deftly illustrates.

First seen in 2019 and revived for the Belfast Children’s Festival, it finds the titular 15-year-old Maura, originally played by McMahon herself, caught on the cusp of adulthood between the, literally, forbidding Scylla and Charybdis of strict parents and the even stricter nuns who teach her as she struggles to find herself. Here, she’s played by Calla Hughes, who made an impression in her recent professional debut in The Snow Queen, and who brings a sweetly innocent sense of befuddlement and revelation to Maura’s growing pains.

Following McMahon’s more mature The Gap Year, in truth, it’s a slight piece, in parts overwritten, in others underwritten, but it carries itself with a redeeming tenderness and charm, warmly inked in by Hughes, that beguiles.

If the assorted parents, teachers and classmates who populate the piece and provide some of the evening’s biggest laughs occasionally blur in Hughes’s still to be refined technique, the whole remains touchingly rooted in Maura’s discovery that girls are more attractive than boys.

There is much to enjoy, not least the endearing conceit of Maura’s girl-fan obsession with Martine McCutcheon and her chart-topping single "Perfect Moment" that produces a series of intimate if cryptically enlightening bedroom chats with her idol-cum-guru.

And there is fun to be had in the interjections of status quo-protecting parents, De Valera-era nuns, and the undigested, unreconstructed sexual politics of Maura’s peers that invest the piece with a sense of all too recent, and timeless, nostalgia.

A glancing, throwaway reference to Northern Ireland’s brute (un-)reality when pupils and parents of the Catholic Holy Cross School in north Belfast were subject to a violent Loyalist gauntlet on their way to lessons adds the political dimension that always haunts McMahon’s work without ever breaking its surface.

Benjamin Gould’s production pays more attention to what lies on the writing's surface rather than searching for what might lie beneath and suffers from occasional moments of longueur. A little more grit in the oyster might well produce a pearl of a show.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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