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)

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.

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.

Writing prompt – pier

Birnbeck Pier cr Judy DarleyLast year we lost a dear friend unexpectedly, and in the aftermath a group of us journeyed to Sand Point near Weston-Super-Mare to say our farewells.

It was a beautiful day – full of memories and thoughtfulness as well as some wry laughter. On our way home, we spied an eerily gothic structure stretching out into the Bristol Channel and paused to take a look.

It turned out to be Birnbeck Pier – a Victorian pier. Last week, part of it collapsed into the waves as Storm Frank roared by.

A reminder of how tenuous, yet tenacious, our grip on land and life can be? Make this the starting point of your tale, and insert as much drama as you like.

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