First published in The Times, Friday August 23 2019
Zoe Ní Riordáin’s solo show is one of those Fringe oddities that defy neat classification. From the moment the doors to Summerhall’s Demonstration Room open to reveal the performer wearing a gleaming spacesuit and bouncing on a trampoline, we know we’re in for something a little out of the ordinary.
Yet unlike, say, those forceful performances by Richard Gadd or Kim Noble in which the comedians recount their experiences of depression while running on a treadmill, the connections between Ni Riordain’s trampoline routine and the show’s other quirks (at one point she unzips her spacesuit to reveal a Spider-Man costume) and the subject matter are never made explicit.
The “live concept album”, presented by the theatre company One Two One Two, is based on Ní Riordáin’s experience of, and recovery from, a break-up. The lyrics (directed at an unnamed “you”) are beguilingly raw, pithy and unapologetically solipsistic. “You make me weak,” she sings at one point. “I’m so lonely,” is the refrain of another song. Early on, she admits that this set list is the result of some ruthless redrafting. When she sat down in her garden shed to write down her thoughts “all that came out at first was Sinéad O’Connor lyrics.”
Ní Riordáin displays something of O’Connor’s soul-baring candour not to mention the power and purity of her voice. The sound here is mostly stripped-back, just the musician’s voice accompanied by electric guitar or synths, so there is a moving directness to the performance. The most disarming moments come between numbers, when Ní Riordáin confronts her audience with some uncomfortable questions (“Do you think it’s possible to love someone more than you love yourself?”) then waits expectantly for answers.
Her show is intriguing but a little fragile. It would be gratifying to see something with a little more narrative coherence.