ALMOST A STEPMOM
STANDING ROOM ONLY THEATRE, Havana Theatre, 14-18th March 2017
My Two Pence
By Liz Gloucester
Keara Barnes enjoys the craic, and she dishes it out to her audience in spades. Having spent a rather eventful 3 years in Dublin, fallen in love and found herself entangled in a domestic dispute Barnes regales us with her own fairy tale (not suitable for children, or indeed those of a nervous disposition).
Barnes' script and delivery are very entertaining; her on stage persona split between the protagonist Keara and the other characters: comprising Man-United-loving-Joe, his six year old daughter Aoife, Aoife's mother – more popularly styled 'She Who Must Not Be Named'- and helpful old neighbour Mrs O'Brien. Precision and transitions between these different characters especially in scenes where they converse with each other is seamless; the placement and direction very intricate and well-executed. It is easy to forget you are watching one woman. It is the antithesis of the solo chess match portrayal I imagine lesser performers would play.
The lighting and sound is woven well into Barnes' monologue, both simple and quite bold; I particularly enjoyed the red wash used for the 'Beauty Queen of Tallaght': the mother; chain smoker, binge drinker, dressed to the nines with boobs that 'explode out from her chest'. Though she is the villain of this piece - and most definitely someone we would run away from in real life- within the safety of the theatre this is the character the audience longed to see more of. It is often the case that characters we least like are the ones actors embrace the tightest; and Barnes suits her tremendously, strutting around on her tip toes, sashaying her hips from side to side as if she were God's gift.
The other players in the piece pale in comparison; even with Barnes' highly engaging performance. Joe was background fodder. 'Almost a Stepmom' really deals with the thrown- together lives of three women – the good princess, the witch and the child.
I would have enjoyed seeing the physicality of Aoife go a little further. There is still rather a lot of the adult in how she holds herself; although having never met the child of course it is entirely possible that this is how she walked, fidgeted and looked up at those around her. Perhaps the poor child had to grow up too fast; not surprising given her situation. However; in the interests of theatricality I feel there is more to explore, something Barnes is clearly more than capable of. I feel we only got a glimpse of the extreme one can go to when portraying an infant during the scene in which Aoife is playing at being a monkey.
In spite of her name meaning 'black one' in Irish, Barnes paints her protagonist in a very white light, almost saintly. Aside from a few moments of hesitation and fear, which were in there own rights beautifully portrayed, there wasn't much self-criticism of her protagonist. We Brits breakfast on self-mockery and sup on self deprecation. I would have liked to see some! Although; it is a fairytale; and good princesses rarely show their ugly side even though we all know they have them!
My favourite part of the piece occurs when 'sitting duck' Keara is waiting in the car for Joe to drop Aoife off at her mother's and is attacked by the latter who promptly empties her rubbish bag over her head. I could actually smell the contents of the bag as Keara slowly picked off imaginary egg bits from her arm, swiped imaginary coffee grounds from her lap and delicately plucked imaginary SuperNoodles from her hair. It was a veritable feast for the eyes.
Barnes' closing sentiment is that of an importance to follow your gut. Her gut inevitably told her to leave this family fracas and return to Canada. I would like to thank Barnes' gut; without which we would not have been able to delight in this gorgeous performance.