Mark Ludmon reviews Kat Woods' new play Killymuck at Underbelly Bristo Square at Edinburgh Fringe
Writer and director Kat Woods has drawn on her childhood growing up on a Northern Irish housing estate to create a show that makes an urgent plea to improve opportunities for people living in poverty. Using statistics and expert analysis, she reveals the near-impossible challenge for youngsters like herself to escape the cycle of living on benefits, stigmatised from an early age and unable to access the educational and cultural resources of those higher up the class system.
However, the heart of the show – and fortunately the larger part of it – is the story of growing up on the estate, dubbed Killymuck, vividly told through the character of Niamh. In a mesmerising bravura performance by Aoife Lennon, we meet Niamh's mother and the girls who become her friends and enemies and find out about other characters living on the estate including her abusive father. There is violence, alcoholism, substance abuse and teenage pregnancy but this is not a bleak show – it is also about the bonds of community and family. We are treated to the joys and the sorrows of Niamh's childhood, from a babysitting disaster to her mother's delight in her small garden, nurturing sweet pea and pansies despite the urban environment.
This is obviously a highly personal piece for Woods who intermittently pauses Niamh's story to present us with data, expert opinion and commentary on the barriers facing working-class people and the underclass. She urges us to lobby our MPs to drive political change that will improve accessibility to culture and other alternatives for people from different backgrounds. She also touches on the timely topic of abortion after Ireland's referendum in May left Northern Ireland isolated on limiting access to terminations.
Statistics are useful in emphasising how little has changed, if not got worse, since Niamh's childhood in the 1990s but it feels a dislocating interruption to the storytelling. There is also so much more I wanted to know, such as the fate of the other girls on the Killymuck estate such as Siobhan and Ciara. Told from the perspective of a show presented in 2018, it especially leaves us to wonder what happened to Niamh and how Woods herself escaped the cycle of poverty to bring this powerful message to Edinburgh.
Running at Underbelly, Bristo Square to 27 August 2018.