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Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks

Sarah Hanly
Royal Court Theatre and Abbey Theatre
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Sarah Hanly as Saoirse Credit: Luca Truffarelli
Sarah Hanly as Saoirse Credit: Luca Truffarelli
Sarah Hanly as Saoirse Credit: Luca Truffarelli

Sarah Hanly’s intense sixty-five-minute monologue as the character Saoirse traces a section of her life from a school in Ireland run by nuns to her involvement with theatre in London and finally a glimpse of a possible return to Ireland.

The monologue is mostly pitched as a conversation with her childhood friend, Ashling. Both suffer from anorexia, but in a world geared to men, Saoirse is determined to explore her sexuality, her sexual preferences and the kind of role she wants in life. Not that such an exploration is a simple matter. As she points out to Ashling, “the truth is, neither of us belong anywhere.” She recalls saying to a cover teacher, “women are conditioned to do what we are told, we are not taught how to say ‘no’”.

Instead, it is often the world saying no to them, so Saoirse’s request to play a strong female role like Antigone in the school play is refused because she supposedly fits better the role of a man like Creon. She hits back on that one by giving a rather special public performance as Creon in which she deviates from the script to denounce with examples the sexual hypocrisy of the school. Being in no mood to consider her claims, the school expels her. Despite this, she is able to find a life involving theatre in London. She also comes to some conclusions about herself.

She explains to Ashling that, in her final days at school, she “was only attracted to women at that point”. However, not liking the word lesbian, she calls herself a purple.

In the most moving scene in the play, she gives the weakened six stone weight of Ashling a piggyback up the side of the Wicklow mountain where they gently talk about what is happening to them. The eating disorder was damaging them both and, given the world they lived in, we can't be surprised that Saoirse has an urge to ‘puke’ up as many as twelve times a day.

This thoughtful, often funny play has an eye for the difficult lives of women in a society persistently oppressive to women. Although there are moments of sadness, it has a very hopeful vision that a better world is possible.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna