I first watched a brief version of Ethel at Fresh Meat 4, in 2015. Since then the piece has undergone immense reworking, and has become one of the most honest and touching personal explorations I’ve seen brought to any stage.
Madeleine Hall has performed at the last two Fringes in a pair of (nearly) silent clown shows. This is not that. When I saw the piece at FM4, I described it as oscillating between moments of controlled chaos and precise finesse. In this iteration, the finesse and precision have remained, and the chaos has become incorporated into it as a sort of consistent driving energetic impulse that carries the show along.
I’m not sure exactly what justifies the choice to employ a series of chairs as the set and props throughout this piece, as the precise symbolic meaning remains unclear, but I must confess that the fact that I don’t know why this choice has been made doesn’t detract in the least from my engagement with the story. Hall proves that a performer who is genuinely interested in the thing they are doing, whatever that might be, is captivating to watch.
The language is precise, and the story heartfelt. When I saw the original piece, I felt like the emotional centre of the story had been hidden from our view as an audience. In this version, Hall presents her experience with a frank honesty that draws us into the emotional journey she undertakes in getting to know her grandmother, Ethel. We see just the right amount of the relationship to extrapolate the rest into our own lives and drive home the emotional impact of the piece.
The pacing throughout this piece in both movement and language is consistent, without a lot of rise or fall, no matter what is occurring. This mimics the monotony of caring for an individual who can no longer look after their own needs, and the bureaucracy that must be navigated in the healthcare system, but if there is one area of this show that could benefit from some more directorial attention, it would be in providing a little bit more variance. Off the top of the show, I noticed Hall had quite a number of sentence/paragraphs that all ran about the same length at the same rate before which she paused. This had the effect of pushing me out of the intimate interaction that was being cultivated between performer and audience. Before long, however, the deeply personal and genuine story had me hooked.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition between the physical monotony of caring for them and the emotional rollercoaster that providing that care entails, and this piece handles it with great skill and care for its audience. I truly felt like Hall was sharing a bit of her human with us, and holding space for whatever human reaction that provoked in us. This show hits you right in the feels, but softly, tenderly, with genuine care.
Created and Performed by Madeleine Hall
Directed by Mitchell Rose
Produced by Aplombusrhombus
Saturday, June 17 6:00pm
Sunday, June 18 3:30pm