By Colin Hambrook
In a stuffy black box oozing with sweat, air-conditioning humming pointlessly, Bernadette Cremin gave a seamless performance last night at the Iambic Arts Theatre, Brighton - as part of the annual Fringe Festival.
Altered Egos has been crafted from pearls from her three poetry collections; stitching together the flesh and bones of six women who she describes as having “catwalked and crawled out of my poetry for the last decade.”
Still, intense, enigmatic, Cremin weaves a tapestry of monologues from women surviving on the margins. The stories grab you like the moment before a pin drops; Cremin’s delivery keeps you hanging on every word, every metaphor.
Her physicality is for the most part understated. Using simple devices: a change of wig and t-shirt, a table, a chair, Altered Egos takes you into the mind-set of lived lives. At turns harsh, fragile, undaunted in the face of everything life throws at them, her characters are defined by sex, love, loss and disability.
Sophie is leaving her unfaithful husband. Stan is helping her move out, an adjunct to the emotional dilemma she is processing: "Now I don't recognise the life/ I've packed up too neat: / Keep Upright, Breakable, Handle with Care/ (Stan has no idea I'm leaving a husband/ polite conversation doesn't ask)"
Patsy has seen the inside of too many hospitals, is caught up in a circus of operations and medication. She describes the loneliness of too many friends who don’t, can’t understand without having lived it: “I hung up/ begged her to stop/ because running in circles/ is just impossible/ when going for a piss/ is a day's work.”
Joan is waiting for David to die: “We sat on the wrong side of sympathy.” She is resigned, anticipating how she will be in the face of the inevitability of it all: “I’ll start to collect your silhouettes/ fingerprints left on glass and plastic/ your discarded shadows, left-over profiles/ and rough sketches I’ll never show you.”
Tina marked a dramatic change in physicality. By introducing the character talking to her friend Debs on a mobile phone, she projects an upbeat note in the face of the desperation of a woman who has visited her husband in prison just once too often.
Val sits behind a table as if she is being interviewed by the police. Hers is the most shocking; a story of sexual violence and abuse. She portrays the stigma that attaches itself to a woman dealing with the guilt of having married the wrong man: "She is learning... where to find a petrol green / butterfly wing in a bruise."
Trudy is a debutante-type who gets drawn into a world of prostitution and sleaze. This was the one character who didn’t come across as quite so natural. It may have been first-night nerves, but Cremin didn’t inhabit this character on the night. She didn’t take the audience captive, as she did with the rest of her monologues.
Cremin’s voice inspires from the page, but is rivetting in performance. The key is the quality of attention she demands. Her timing is perfect. Altered Egos marks a significant development in the dramatic intention behind her work, takes her poetry performance onto a different level.
I found myself comparing her with Sophie Woolley star of Channel 4's Cast Off's who’s series of monologues - When to Run drew sell-out audiences at the Purcell Room, South Bank Centre in 2008. Sophie and Bernadette would make a cracking combination!
Miming Silence is Bernadette Cremin's third poetry collection.
Published by Waterloo Press
ISBN 978-1-906742-14-0 Price: £10
Altered Egos can be seen on 9 May 2010, at Iambic Arts,
38 Gardner Street, Brighton at 7.30pm.
Directed by Paul Stones. £10 /£8 (concession)
Not wheelchair accessible.
This show features collaborations with other audio/visual artists.
Phone: 01273 572101