Abbie Spallen
Traverse Theatre

One of London's premiere new writing theatres, The Bush, has brought artistic director Mike Bradwell's production of Abbie Spallen's play Pumpgirl to the Traverse for the Festival with an all-Northern Irish cast.

The Pumpgirl of the title is the girl who operates the petrol pump at the local garage, who is having an affair with a married man, 'No Helmet' Hammy. She tries to act as one of the lads, but is not respected at all by them, described at one point as 'the one who walks like John Wayne and looks like his horse'.

The story is told as a series of monologues delivered directly to the audience, telling the same story from three different points of view - those of Pumpgirl, Hammy and Hammy's wife Sinead. This is very similar to another Irish play premiered in the UK by the Bush ten years ago, This Lime Tree Bower, written and directed by a 21-year-old pre-Weir Conor McPherson. Spallen's play uses much shorter monologues and does not achieve the same lyricism, depth of characterisation or narrative drive as the McPherson piece.

The actors create the characters well: Orla Fitzgerald plays the the title character as a grown-up tomboy, James Doran is the slightly seedy Hammy and Maggie Hayes plays his long-suffering wife Sinead. Bob Bailey's design is a simple backdrop with a battered petrol pump, which looks just right and is all that is needed for a play with only verbal action.

We see relationships develop and break down in some gory details, and there is plenty in here that is funny, sad and shocking. This is a difficult format to pull off completely though, and there are times when it would be nice to see some of the things that happen in the story, not just hear about them in the past tense.

(Originally awarded 3½ stars.)

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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