This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
A good Irish country girl and always a bit of a dreamer, Nellie (Brenda McSweeney) is not quite sure what to do with her life when she finishes school and stumbles her way into a career in nursing. Having followed her cousin to London, she is amazed and exhilarated yet also taken aback by life in the metropolis. As a qualified nurse she once again stumbles in a new direction; this time midwifery. Nellie trains under the watchful and caring eye of Mrs. Branson, a motherly Scottish midwife. Never quite at peace where she is, Nellie begins to travel the globe: New York, the Arctic circle, Africa. She quickly realises that the medicalisation of childbirth is not for her and begins to see the merits of home birth, heighted by her work with the remote locals she encounters on her travels. As much as she loves her adventures, Nellie misses the old sod and eventually returns to Ireland, setting up a private practice as a home birth midwife.
This is a one woman performance in which McSweeney hops into many guises as she presents the various characters that Nellie has encountered on her way through life. McSweeney’s portrayal of a wide-eyed gombeen arriving in the heady city is perfect comedy but she really shines during her more dramatic and emotive pieces. Given that this is a tale about childbirth it is of no surprise that it also includes that tragic as well as the joyous. Under the naturalistic direction of Frank Allen, McSweeney’s impassioned performance really makes the audience believe that she was there; she saw these things, she worked with and loved these people. There are quite a few tender moments, perhaps one too many as they do begin to lose their power as the story progresses. McSweeney’s performance of the titular Nellie feels as though a slightly eccentric aunt is regaling family members with tales of her past. It is this personability that makes a believable and warm performance.
A simple and straightforward story by Aileen Wymes, Nellie benefits from having neither bells nor whistles. There is nothing fancy to it, no tricks or gimmicks, just a heartfelt story of a woman’s life as a midwife. Towards the end of this 70 minute show the story does wane a little, and it feels as though the ending was tacked on when it could have easily finished in a more open-ended manner. Similarly, the highly emotive pieces could benefit from a less-is-more approach. None-the-less, Nellie hits most of the right spots, with laughter and tears throughout. The basic set design (Alan Lynch and Donna Marie) of a chair, a coatstand, and a collage of baby pictures works well and allows the focus to be on the story at hand.
Nellie is a lovely way to spend 70 minutes. It may not be perfect and could possibly be cleaned up a little bit but there is a lot to love about it. Just like a new born.
Writer: Aileen Wymes
Director: Frank Allen
Runs until July 4th 2015 at Viking Theatre, Dublin.
Photo courtesy of the Viking Theatre.