Review: Mustard, Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe

Eva O’Connor, whose Maz and Bricks played Edinburgh Fringe last year, is back in Summerhall with a scorching, honest and  brutally nuanced monologue, Mustard

“A thing of yellow….” she begins. “E”, (played by O’Connor) our protagonist, is extolling the virtues of her most valued coping mechanism and describes how Mustard is the only British import to Ireland that should be allowed. E is booking flights back to see an ex, with the click, click of the Ryanair website seemingly tut-tutting her. We are brought back to the beginning of their relationship. E, an Irish immigrant,  meets the man of her dreams in a steamy South London club. He’s a sexy and wildly wealthy professional cyclist, all sinew and muscle with calves carved in stone. Love hits her “in the pubic bone like a train”. She falls for him hard and sets off on a fraught and steamy affair, having the kind of wild sex that hurts her insides. When her cyclist returns from a tournament with a new girl in toe, E loses it. Her mind, as well as her body, goes to mustard. 

O’Connor delivers a confident and sensitive performance, but the real strength of this play is in her writing. The story is beautifully crafted, with real elegance, subtlety and humour. Although it appears simple, there’s something in there to rattle you and leave you thinking, long after the show is over. The staging, directed here by Hildegard Ryan and presented by Sunday’s Child Theatre, is simple, with a kind of old-school live art feel. In recent years, O’Connor has made a name for herself with plays such as the aforementioned Maz and Bricks, My Name is Saoirse and Overshadowed. Surely Mustard will propel her to new heights and solidify her reputation as a voice that deserves to be listened to. 

There’s a lot to think about in Mustard. The complex dynamics between men and women, lust, jealousy, entitlement, heartbreak and revenge. There are even, yet again, vague hints towards evolving Anglo-Irish relations, manifest in the blunt differences between E and her cyclist and in her journeys between Ireland and London.

It’s vaguely depressing to see a one-woman show that revolves almost entirely around a man. However, it’s clear that this break up story is just a means through which E may explore her own inner life and the wilder facets of her nature. As E spirals out of control she lathers herself in mustard in a paddling pool in front of her shocked cyclist. Even though she has washed herself clean by the end of the show, you might worry if she’ll ever find consolation, on her own terms.  Mustard has already caused something of a stir at the Fringe and is well worth a punt, if you can get your hands on a ticket.

Mustard played Summerhall until 12 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.