Reviewed by Natalie Low
“When you have nothing left to lose, you set yourself on fire.”
We all have our own coping mechanism – be it having ice cream by the pint, trashy reality tv shows, but for Eva – it’s mustard. The stage is quite bare, and the lighting is focused on our storyteller. We meet Eva at present, as she explains how she finds herself back in the arms of her ex-lover. This is probably the make or break for her, and you know it’s real for her because she literally bought an air ticket to fly over after a single text message from him. We then follow her back into time where she recounts through the events of her tumultuous love life, and how mustard has always been on her mind to cope with the stresses of life. In between the story of her love life, Eva also talks of the complicated relationship she has with her very Christian mother, and her home of Ireland. She leaves it all behind to pursue an artist life in London. When it all comes crashing down, she finds herself back in her small town, with nothing but her mother’s prayers and patience. It’s a fun and endearing moment when Eva starts to heal again on her mother’s insistence to join her for her weekly “Stitch & Bitch” – a Christian group of older ladies who knit together and just bitch. She finds solace in her older female companions who provide her with the right tools to begin her healing process.
A heartbreaking, and raw piece of writing performed in a one-woman show, Eva O’Connor has a lot to do on stage, but she does it with confidence and power that you do not feel any difficulty in following her story at any point in the show. Eva O’Connor is a beautiful performer. Her brutal honesty is painful, but her storytelling is powerful. The writing is poetic and she has a flair to bring out the heaviness without burdening an audience. It’s not all heavy – this piece is sprinkled with bits of comedy that comes with Eva’s sass and self-deprecating humour that anybody (particularly women) can relate to. There are gaps in between her speaking where we can just follow her actions and take a little breather from the intensity of this raw and honest story. Her relationship with her mental health is demonstrated through her relationship with mustard – at first, it feels a little humorous – A condiment, of all things! But then you begin to understand more as the story goes on. You understand the need for mustard. You understand the fiery sting of the almost-addicting pain of mustard when it smears all over your skin.
Hildegard Ryan has crafted a wonderful canvas for Eva to perform on. With simple movements yet every subtle change helps with the pacing and impact of the writing. The building of the stage with simple props is like watching Eva piece together a heartbreaking puzzle. It’s fascinating watching her lay out the pieces and ultimately put them together at the end.
Lighting plays an important role in this piece with subtle changes throughout, but it layers onto the intensity of the piece without overwhelming it. When the words get heavy, the lighting gets sharp. Marianne Nightingale has done a brilliant job in carrying the emotions of the play through her lighting design.
The bare bones of the staging of this play is more than enough because the story told fills up the rest of the stage. Eva’s presence is strong, and her voice is powerful throughout. A wondrous addition to Irish theatre, this is not the end of the road for Mustard.