I am sitting in Smock Alley Theatre fifteen minutes early for Margaret Perry’s play, Collapsible. I am trying to read the Dublin Fringe Festival information booklet, but I cannot concentrate. I am distracted by Essie (Breffni Holahan), the subject of the play, as she sits atop a small elevated platform, shrouded in light, donning expressions which teeter between euphoria and despair while gazing out into the crowd. Over the next hour, she successfully captures the full attention of the audience as she delivers a clever and absorbing monologue. I find Collapsible to be an intense, striking and empathetic portrayal of a woman on the edge of breakdown in the modern age.
Essie balances on top of this platform, refusing to let her feet touch the ground, destabilized by the recent loss of her job, a breakup, and feelings of depersonalisation. The play is about disconnect with the self. She begs friends and family to describe her to herself, holding onto vague words such as “personable, ambitious, clever,” and tries to sell herself in interviews using these words. But as each interview is unsuccessful we see Essie beginning to disassociate with her described personality. We watch Essie experience a total dissolution of the self, and she confesses that she often feels more like a collapsible chair than a person.
“The play shines a light on what it feels like when your brain starts going haywire, and offers us a hopeful ending on how to give or receive help when it does.”
The subject matter is serious, but the play has moments which are rich in comedy. The audience often laughs at Essie’s running commentary on snobby friends, awkward interactions with her sister’s partner, interviews with tech companies, and an obsession with internet quizzes. The audience seem to relate to spending whole days in bed completing Buzzfeed quizzes which reveal what John Hughes movie you’d be.
Ultimately, the play is heartwarming. Essie finds help in an unexpected place, saved by empathy and understanding from somebody who feels the same way as her. The play shines a light on what it feels like when your brain starts going haywire, and offers us a hopeful ending on how to give or receive help when it does. Essie is offered a helping hand down from the platform, and the applause is rapturous.