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Review - Mustard

Arcola Theatre

Playing until 3rd June 2023



Writer

Eva O'Connor


Director

Hildegard Ryan


Executive Producer

Eva Scanlan (Fishamble)


Review {Gifted - PR Invite}

As Eva (Eva O’Connor), an Irish woman finding her way in the city of London, falls in love with a professional cyclist, she is lost in the heat of passion and everything in her life becomes irrational. She overlooks the cyclist’s lack of interest in her and the complete indifference to her presence. Eva holds up to the hope that things will change upon his return from a cycling competition, and things did change, for the worse. In response to him bringing another woman back to the house, Eva inflicts pain upon herself by smothering her body with mustard, an action that also leads to her eventual eviction.


O’Connor delivers a fantastic performance of a woman that is drowning in pain, portrayed with the use of mustard smothered into every corner of her body. However, it is important to note that is never made clear whether Eva’s obsession with mustard is literal or that it is a representation of pain and agony, leaving it completely to the audience to freely interpret. Although this yellow condiment causes a stinging sensation and for much of the play, it is a symbol of suffering, from my perspective, it can also be used to described the passion and tingling of sex when Eva is love. In the first quarter of the show, it is deliberately ambiguous as to whether Eva is thinking about sex or suffering when she refers to mustard, blurring the line between the two distinct and yet closely related sensations. Furthermore, it is unclear how much of the narration of the events take place in real life or inside Eva’s head, creating a sense of unease and an appreciation of Eva’s inner psyche, respectively. Eva is always appearing as though she is detached from reality and holds onto a twinkle of madness in her expressions, capturing the absurdity of the situation.


O’Connor is equipped with a paddling pool, a washing line, drying cloths and jars of mustard on stage. As she gives into her desire to embrace the pain that has reached a tipping point, she jumps into the paddling pool to cover every inch of her body in mustard, which stays on her for an extended proportion of the play, even after she has returned to her home in rural Ireland. During her time in Ireland, the wound and obsession with mustard gradually fades as Eva physically wipes away the mustard from her body and hangs the mustard-stained cloths on a washing line. This serves two purposes, one to showcase the difficult and long path of healing as she recovers from the trauma, and two, the mustard never truly goes away and will be there to remind Eva of her past.


The play has an attractive and descriptive narrative, drawing the audience into the character’s obsessions and inner turmoil. However, despite the absurdity of the situation, the play has a level of serenity in its delivery and might benefit from a more exaggerated delivery and a more explicit portrayal of the character’s inner madness in order to highlight the turning point from self-destruction to recovery.


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