Abbie Spallen
Traverse 2

As one might expect from the combined pedigree of the Traverse and the Bush, this is a high quality piece of theatre that, under Mike Bradwell's direction, grips throughout its 90 minutes.

Set in South Armagh, but spiritually closer to Ancient Greece or the American Heartlands, Pumpgirl is made up of three intersecting monologues. The style is Conor McPherson but, ignoring the accents, the characters are more Sam Shepard or David Mamet.

Named after her job, Orla Fitzgerald's Pumpgirl is androgynous and desperately insecure. It doesn't help that she knows that she "walks like John Wayne and looks like his horse". She dotes on the wolfish, moustachioed chicken hatchery worker and stock car racer, "No Helmet Hammy", played by James Doran.

He is constantly unfaithful to his wife, Sinead (Maggie Hayes) and seemingly stays with her only for the sake of their two little children.

These three have in common the disappointment of unfulfilled love and the kind of life that naturally leads to contemplation of suicide.

With much imagery derived from popular contemporary culture, Abbie Spallen uses language beautifully and stuctures her play well, helped by three well-cast actors.

As well as telling a domestic tale on a small scale, Pumpgirl has greater ambitions. Its destructive and self-loathing protagonists are the result of a community in which violence is imbibed with mother's milk. They therefore reflect the brutality of their society but also an ability to survive real horrors.

With affairs and gangbangs, potential child murder and desertion, Pumpgirl is no barrel of laughs. However, as a well-crafted look at ordinary people getting by in the Northern Irish countryside, it is something pretty special.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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