Theatre review: My Name Is Saoirse, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Traverse Theatre. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Traverse Theatre. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The year is 1987, the place is small-town Ireland; and up in the attic, Saoirse is sewing on an old machine, making a patchwork quilt our of the remnants of her life.

My Name Is Saoirse | Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh | Rating ****

Saoirse is still in her teens, barely old enough to leave school. Yet the story she unfolds, in this 50-minute solo show, is about the saddest of rites of passage, as a motherless girl with a silent father and a gobby, super-mature best friend – big, blonde Siobhan – is talked into a night in the pub with the boys, discovers she is pregnant after a single drink-dazed encounter, and becomes one of the thousands of Irish women each year who travel to the UK for an abortion.

First seen in Edinburgh two years ago, and written and performed by Eva O’Connor, My Name Is Saoirse has since picked up awards in Brighton and Dublin, not least for it sharp reminder of the impact of restrictive abortion law on Irish women. In truth, though, what makes Saoirse’s story memorable is not the trip to London–dealt with in a few sentences – but its remarkably rich portrait of an entire society on the verge of change. Saoirse is a victim in some ways, for sure, stuck in an ugly and often heartless small-town culture. Yet she also has strength and creative power, reflected in the growing beauty of her patchwork, and in the vivid language of her monologue; along with a glimpse, in her love for Siobhan, of a completely different world of sexual experience, and the knowledge that her mother, before she died, did call her Saoirse - the name that means freedom..

JOYCE McMILLAN