BWW Review: Decadent Distills An Explosive PUMPGIRL
With sparkling assurance, Abbie Spallen's Pumpgirl splices comedy and tragedy. Scooping the Stewart Parker Award and the Susan Smith Blackburn Award after its 2006 premiere, Pumpgirl is set in a dilapidated garage of a small borderland town in Spallen's native Northern Ireland.
The three-character monologue play revolves around the simple-minded Pumpgirl, who is dazzled by the womanising 'No Helmet' Hammy, and Hammy's disillusioned wife Sinead.
The action pivots on the occasion of Hammy's birthday, when Hammy and his sinister friends pick up the unsuspecting Pumpgirl in Hammy's car while the long-neglected Sinead is rejuvenated by the attention she receives in a random encounter.
Decadent Theatre's involving, intense production, for the Galway International Arts Festival, terrifyingly exposes the loneliness and desperation of Pumpgirl's marginalised characters, claustrophobically trapped by circumstance.
Dressed in blue overalls rolled down to her waist and a back-to-front baseball cap, Samantha Heaney's Pumpgirl is suitably androgynous-looking. Pumpgirl doesn't identify with her sex (she hates women drivers) and loves the "the sweet and sour stink of petrol". But the principal object of her affection is Hammy, and Heaney imbues Pumpgirl with wide-eyed wonder, her face brightly animated as her sentences repeatedly start with "Hammy says...".
As the local amateur racing champion and philandering Hammy, Patrick Ryan captures the character's blend of swagger and nonchalance. Wearing a black and red Ferrari jacket and white running shoes, Ryan offers an elastic performance of a tortured soul that spotlights Hammy's growing remorse.
Seóna Tully's sympathetic portrayal of Sinead is a bubbling stew of anger and shame. Unlike Pumpgirl and Hammy, Sinead feels alienated from where she lives ("In this town, you're either a slut or a snob."). Tully conveys Sinead's sense of separateness and her palpable frustration at marrying the wrong person (although the script never satisfyingly reveals her original attraction to Hammy) as well as Sinead's gradual unthawing as she basks in the glow of unexpected attention.
Under Andrew Flynn's taut, surgically-precise direction, this Decadent production is carefully-attuned to the small-town cruelties at the heart of a darkly comic, uncompromising text.
With heartbreak as its bass line, the production's supple ensemble playing and stark lighting wrings the pathos from Spallen's script, culminating in a chilling sequence that juxtaposes two very different, yet seminal experiences - connected by an unseen, malignant character - for Pumpgirl and Sinead.
Grippingly tense, deftly realised, and emotionally resonant, Decadent Theatre's revival persuasively argues that Pumpgirl deserves wider exposure.