What with the modern world wading through an epidemic of mental illness, Margaret Perry’s Collapsible couldn’t be timelier. High and dry on a plinth made of stone, the character of Essie (played by Breffni Holahan), possesses depth akin to that of a water well. It is as though she has been excavated — her insides made empty, yet full at the same time. Depression sloshes about in her stomach, sinking down and spilling out in queasy torrents.
“I feel like a chair”, Holahan admits, dust falling from the space between her knees. One of those fold-up jobbies, like origami paper crimped and creased as small as it can possibly go. Out of a job and now, without a girlfriend, Essie navigates her world as if it were crumbling, like rubble. Perry’s depiction of depersonalization is haunting, also manifesting through Alison Neighbour’s striking set. Great granite beams are weighed down by slate, their sharpness offset by Alex Fernandes’ heady lighting design.
Holahan’s performance is something supernatural. Riddled with anxiety, she has all the nervous tension of someone standing at the crest of Niagara Falls. Her sense of comic timing is also razor-sharp, grounding any emotional choreography with spent laughter. When she loses all sense of self, Essie refers to a list of adjectives compiled by friends and family. Tears make tracks on her cheeks as these traits sputter from her lips, the hollowness within stretching until she is less of a person and more of a pit.
Collapsible is unequivocally, an outstanding piece of theatre. It cuts through stereotypical representations of those suffering with poor mental health, hitting on the raw, painful truth. A final plot twist confounds the sense of loneliness created throughout. It is a smart and playful device, furthering the already profound atmosphere of unpredictability.
Essie could be your mother, she could be your sister, or she might even be you. Her story is one that articulates the horrors of melancholia with singular brilliance. Collapsible translates the breaking down of Essie’s body and mind into an experience that is accessible, both for those for whom this is fiction, and for those who know it as reality.
Collapsible is playing the Assembly Roxy until 25 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.