Theatre review – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing1 Credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing © Mihaela Bodlovic

Sweeping us from the days before birth deep into a girl’s life, Annie Ryan’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s award-winning novel for The Corn Exchange Theatre is a formidable journey. The adaptation itself is a work of mastery – at no point do we exit the inner narrative of the half-formed girl, instead experiencing everything that comes her way with visceral intensity.

To accomplish this, Ryan cast just one character, the girl, performed with extraordinary power by Aoife Duffin, who also presents us with every person the girl encounters, from mother, brother and uncle to a breezy roommate, and a succession of men. Her ability to portray different presences is striking – a few alterations to her voice and posture conjure up a host of folks with a variety of intentions towards the girl.

With equal economy, the stage is dressed with no more than a covering that could be carpet, could be mud, and Duffin’s costume comprises what looks like lounge wear – comfortable, unassuming and disarmingly vulnerable. Her feet are bare throughout, allowing Duffin’s talent to shine as she acts from head to toe.

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing cr Mihaela Bodlovic

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing © Mihaela Bodlovic

The story isn’t easy-going. There’s grief, betrayal and an awful lot of sex, most of elicited but less with passion than a desire for self-abasement.

Yet, this is a love story in the purest sense of the word, as the girl aims to protect her older brother and keep him safe from the tumour that afflicted him before her birth. He is the ‘You’ she refers to frequently, and when she talks of their childhood, we’re offered the impression of them hiding together from their irate ma, secure and for the most part happy.

Subtle use of sounds and lighting move us from scene to scene, and mood to mood, but truly this is a play of words; fractured, invented, poetic and bold. Duffin breathes them with every part of her being, so that when she is sore, we are sore, and when she is searching for a sense of herself in all the wrong places, we are searching for her too, so we can bring her safely home.

It’s a performance full of strength, raising questions about culpability and the tendency of victims to punish only themselves. By the end of the 1hr, 25 minute play, Duffin is in emotional tatters, running from the stage after each curtain call with palpable relief. The courage required by this show, and by the girl it focuses on, is evident on her face.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday 30th January. To book tickets visit, call 0117 902 0344 or email

To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Opportunity for artists of sound

Weather Station projectb-side festival & OSR Projects are looking to commission artists who work with sound to produce a piece in collaboration with the Weather Station project.

South West-based sound artists are invited to put forward proposals to take part in Weather Station (Part 2), an art project culminating in an exhibition at the b-side festival on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, in September 2016

The deadline for submissions is 7th February 2016.

To apply, submit a brief outline (around 250 words) detailing how you would respond to the subject of flooding and extreme weather, and how you might explore the changing relationship we have with landscape and the natural world. The organisers say: “Particularly we ask that your response should engage with the ‘Weather Station’ itself, which is a large transparent inflatable sphere (see all available images HERE). It’s large enough to stand, walk or sit in – if wished – on land or water. It’s waterproof, and also therefore ‘breath-proof’, meaning there’s a limitation on the amount of time you can spend inside it.”

Weather Station project2

You must be available to take part in Weather Station (Part 2) sometime between March and June 2016, with results being exhibited at the b-side festival in September 2016.

To be in with a chance of being part of this, consider the part the sphere itself will play in your performance – “to use, react to, present, record, collaborate on, share, or otherwise engage with” before the Weather Station travels on to the next artist in this cumulative project. In your proposal include the South West setting you would like the Weather Station to come to for your particular piece, whether that’s a street, river, rooftop or field.

OSR Projects and b-side will jointly select one artist from the proposals. The final exhibition of Weather Station (Part 2) also offers the opportunity for the selected artist to include some existing relevant work. The successful applicant will receive an artist’s fee of £400 to cover any travel and materials.

Find full details at 

For further information on Weather Station visit

Writing prompt – Chagall and Fo

La passeggiata by Marc ChagallIn November last year I attended the Marc Chagall: Russian years 1907-1924 exhibition at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Italy, where works by Chagall are currently displayed in conjunction to responsive pieces by Dario Fo.

Chagall’s romantic The Promenade inspired Fo’s creation, titled Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo, which translates as A gust of wind and Bella reaches the sky. Bella was Chagall’s beloved wife, and the subject of many of his paintings.

Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo cr Dario Fo

Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo © Dario Fo

While Chagall’s artwork shows the airborne woman anchored by her love for Chagall, in Fo’s interpretation, she seems to be buffeted – helplessly at the mercy of the wind. Her devoted lover races after her, his body language a panicked cry.

Either work on its own is ideal as a writing prompt, but I ask you to consider what happened between The Promenade and Fo’s responsive painting.

What has changed between this couple, and why?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.comFind out more about Brescia at

The Marc Chagall and Dario Fo Exhibition will be at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Italy until 15th February 2016.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, inspired by the life of Marc Chagall, is on at Bristol Old Vic until 11th June 2016.

Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Barcelona.
Discover Laugharne.

Book review – Astray by Emma Donoghue

Astray coverIn her short story collection Astray, author Emma Donoghue takes us on a journey that leads us through time and across oceans deep into the lives of people both real and imagined (sometimes a skilful blend of the two). We encounter their hardships, bear witness to their darkest deeds, share in their triumphs, and hope, very much hope, that a happy ending is just over the next horizon.

It’s a reminder that travel was once only for the intrepid, the desperate and those determined to find a better life. As a historian, Donoghue is adept at taking shreds of ephemera and transforming it into something with body and spirit, and with each of these tales, she reveals something of the era, and the people concerned

Following each story is a brief explanation of its origins, including the facts that inspired the fiction. More than once I found myself surprised by which pieces were true, and which made up – evidence, I think, both of Donoghue’s powerful imagination and reality’s tendencies towards peculiarity.

Continue reading

New Artist – a new magazine

newartistI recently got invited to write a feature for a brand new magazine, New Artist. It was a dream commission, involving me visiting galleries, coffee shops and the like and talking to the people about the pros and cons of choosing to exhibit in unconventional spaces. It opened up really interesting discussions, and gave me an opportunity to consider some unexpected sides of the arguments for and against, while enjoying spending time in some of my favourite kinds of places with some truly talented people.

I was thrilled to receive my comp copy of the magazine last week, which comes with a cover gift of a set of sketching pencils (bonus!), and is packed with beautiful practical articles designed to improve artistic skills and inspire ideas for new compositions.


One special detail for me is that among the photos I submitted along with my feature text was a photo I’d taken in the Grant Bradley Gallery, Bristol, which just happened to include a small work of art by my mum. It made it onto the printed page, which means I now have the pleasure of letting my mum know her collage has been featured in a national art magazine. How lovely.

Print editions of the quarterly New Artist magazine are available to buy online from, with digital versions available on iPad, tablets and Zinio. The print version of issue 1 will be on sale until early March 2016, with digi editions available indefinitely. Huzzah!

Writing prompt – glance

Seen through a window cr Judy DarleySometimes a view changes so fast we can’t be quite sure what we’ve seen. Imagine you’re inside relaxing on a sunny day. You glance outside and your attention catches on something, but when you look properly, it’s too late, whatever you saw has gone.

What did you see? Why does it continue to bother you? What action do you take to resolve the situation and appease your inexplicable anxiety about it?

So many possibilities here – think Hitchcock’s Rear Window, written by John Michael Hayes or Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, and play with this concept until something bubbles up that truly chills you.

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on

Stories at Strawberry Thief

Strawberry Thief by Judy Darley
This week marks the first Novel Nights of 2016, taking place on Thursday 21st January, from 8pm. Excitingly, the literary night has a brand new venue – The Strawberry Thief, a rather delightful Belgian beer bar on Bristol’s Broad Street.

The night’s co-founder and organiser Grace Palmer has kindly invited me to read at the event, and I’ll be sharing a story inspired by the new venue, or rather, by the William Morris wallpaper that inspired the bar’s name. Got that?

I’m one of four writers filling the first half of the evening with stories, then for the second half author Mimi Thebo will be discussing the importance of voice in fiction.

Do come along if you’re in the area.

Writing prompt – serene

Iona Abbey carving cr Judy Darley

Yesterday I mentioned that my short story The Merrow Cave has been published in issue 34 of Canadian literary journal Querty Magazine.

The source of the original story began with me glimpsing this beautifully serene carving at the abbey on the Scottish isle of Iona. It’s an incredibly tranquil place, and this face encapsulates a sense of the atmosphere.

For the purpose of my story I relocated the carving from the column of an abbey into a cave on a shore, and made it a symbol of love. I invite you to do something similar. Place the carving, or a similar one, somewhere meaningful and insert it into a tale. Who is this person? What merited them being immortalised in this way? Who might stumble across it and how might they react?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on

Merrow Cave – a short story

Querty34-coverI’ve long been fascinated by mermaids, and the complex mirror images they can reflect back at us of human limitations and fallibilities.

A while ago I wrote a story exploring concepts of mortality and old age, using a relationship between a land-dweller and his merwife as the starting point. Rather than writing it directly from the couples’ POVs, I introduced a young boy as the protagonist, relating him from his inland home to the windswept isle where his granddad and aunt live.

Merrow Cave was one of those rare tales that seemed to almost write itself, as though carried by a tide I had little control over.

So I’m really pleased that my story has found its home in issue 34 of the prestigious Querty Magazine, a beautiful literary journal now in its 21st year of existence. It’s published at University of New Brunswick Department of English in Canada. Being separated as we are by the Atlantic Ocean seems wonderfully synchronised with the story’s themes.

Living art with Ruth Whiter

Mrs Browns tree, Victoria Park cr Ruth Whiter

Mrs Brown’s Tree, Victoria Park © Ruth Whiter

There’s something alchemical about a sketch artist who attends an event, transforms what they see into beautiful works of art, and flits away. I encountered Ruth Whiter recently when she was sketching musicians playing at a local community event, and couldn’t resist the verve and humour in her work.

“I suppose I got interested in art because I liked drawing,” she comments. “I spent my childhood bent over a plain refill pad and two packs of Berol felt tips, one thick and one thin. Lots of people warned me against focusing on art when it came to ‘A’ levels and higher education, but I suppose I couldn’t resist.”

Illustration had become a particular passion by the time I went to art college in Maidstone. “I developed a love of picture books, and illustrators such as Shirley Hughes, Janet Ahlberg, and then Maurice Sendak,” Ruth says.

Speak Up Climate Change Mass Lobby, June 2015 cr Ruth Whiter

Speak Up Climate Change Mass Lobby, June 2015 © Ruth Whiter

Looking back, Ruth can see the roots of the type of illustration she excels at now in some of her student work. “Once I stood at the edge of a rooftop supermarket car park and drew a wide, frantic, scribbly sketch of almost gridlocked traffic spreading in every direction,” she recalls. “I was channelling the energy of a time and place, and my passion for more sustainable transport. This was reportage illustration, which is what I do best, but it took me nearly twenty years to properly recognise that!”

Following her student years, Ruth worked in stop frame animation for several years after college, stepping away after having two children. “As they began to grow up, I had a little space and time to try drawing again. I’d always kept sketchbooks as a student, so I got back into that habit.”

At the same time as getting back into sketching everywhere she went, Ruth began mastering Photoshop, which was to become an essential tool. “Soon, I learned to scan the drawings directly from my sketchbook and add digital colour without losing the original line, and then I got better at combining two or more sketches to recreate a scene,” she enthuses.

Glassby wedding couple dancing cr Ruth Whiter

Glassby wedding couple dancing © Ruth Whiter

Ruth enjoys this stage almost as much as the actual drawing. “It’s much slower and more relaxed, carefully editing lines, and trying different colours and layers in Photoshop while listening to music.”

Ruth opts to draw entirely from life – a factor which adds to the palpable fizz of her work. “I draw best when lots of people are gathered for a common purpose. Somehow, they contribute to the drawing, and I’m free from the kind of front brain activity you have to deal with when drawing inside at a desk.”

The crowd itself becomes the subject more often that the reason people have gathered. “Often it’s difficult to draw the thing they’ve come to see, because those things tend to move,” she explains. “The best example of this was my drawing of the 2012 Olympics Mens Cycling Road Race, which is a picture of the crowd waiting at the roadside in Leatherhead. I couldn’t possibly have sketched any bikes passing by, but the energy of the event was all contained in the crowd.”

Ruth’s first printed pieces were for the very first Art on the Hill art trail in south Bristol. “People liked them because they were very local and they were a memento of a special event. Plus people love to see themselves in the crowd!”

Ruth is keen to point out that she isn’t a full time artist, however. “I do have another job – it’s important to say that as there’s a big difference between finding a successful way to be an artist and making a living from it.”

Kate and Simon mingling detail cr Ruth Whiter

Kate and Simon’s wedding – mingling detail © Ruth Whiter

It makes the times she can devote to creating art all the more precious.

“If I find a good time and place to draw, if it isn’t raining and my pen isn’t running out, I can get on a ‘roll’ and get completely absorbed, filling page after page,” Ruth says. “You can see the drawings change as I gradually ‘loosen up’ and then start to get tired. I’ve done a few wedding commissions and these are almost a perfect opportunity – at one wedding last year I drew for eight hours with barely a break, and even when the sketchbook was full I found it hard to stop!”

You can find Ruth’s work at, “and I usually show my work at the Front Room (Totterdown) and Art on the Hill (Windmill Hill and Victoria Park) art trails. I’m happy to consider commissions, but not from photos – you need to invite me to the party!”

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)