Eve Langley, the subject matter of the semi-biographical Eve was a mid-twentieth century Australian writer who struggled against the shackles of the “feminine function”. She was eccentric by today’s standards but insane by the standards of her day; she took to dressing as a man and changed her name to Oscar Wilde; she was committed to an institution by her husband and finally ended up dying alone and unfound for three weeks. Sound vaguely familiar? I wish I had known Eve Langley’s story as intimately as I know Virginia Woolf’s before I went to see the third instalment of Metro Arts Independents series. The exquisite Margi Brown Ash gifts her audience an introduction with a beautiful and sensitive portrayal of Langley and the drive of the artist to create and to be free to do so.
An eerie jazz track mixes with the air, and a small hut is presented to the audience on entry, with the frozen form of Moshio seated outside, back-facing the audience. The garden is strewn with fossil like candelabras made out of old wood, an old bathtub, a discarded pram – all relics of real life – a life that is not for Eve. Eve is silhouetted behind the papered side of the hut, madly scribbling and muttering. In an interview Langley described herself as one who chatters and embroiders literature all the time, endlessly – and the fanatic, never still silhouette immediately recalls this.
Margi Brown Ash and Director / Co-deviser Leah Mercer have collaborated to stitch together parts of Langley’s life with parts of her fiction and her poetry to realise a fluid portrayal that is more like a dreaming trip through Langley’s delusions and disillusions rather than a straight forward biographical play, the latter would not have done justice to her story or her frame of mind.
Moshio – an enigmatic performer in his own right — appears as the ‘husband’ character, a kind of minstrel, a detached witness to Langley’s turmoil – he doesn’t speak, instead plays a violin that at times empathises and at others, attacks Eve’s various wandering states. This, the most agonising of instruments beautifully enhances Margi’s monologue, although it abruptly disappears toward the end of the show as if Moshio had just decided that he had played along long enough.
Stace Callaghan, perched above the stage, is a small boy reading a fairy tale. The presence of this character felt a little contrived and disruptive but perhaps this is due to the power of Margi’s solo performance and the interruption of the childish voice proves too distracting.
Eve conveys the overwhelming loneliness of place – physical place, place in society and place in one’s own mind and one’s own condition. I can’t say I left this show feeling upbeat, rather reflecting on the suffering of those pioneering women who were made to be mad because they didn’t fit the mould that was given them. If someone tells you something often enough, eventually you start to believe and even become it. Eve poses the question… do you think I’m mad or just eccentric? Is there a difference between the two?
Margi Brown Ash does not perform but rather evokes Langley to the stage and for the entire duration of the piece does not once break the momentum or give a glimpse at the actor beneath the surface. It truly is a stunning performance and perhaps more than that, proof of Margi’s fascination and empathy for a misunderstood woman who was “ahead of her time”.
Eve is poetically stylised which might limit the audiences it will connect with. To some, this production might feel slow or out of reach, even a bit old fashioned, but the audience it was devised for will be delighted by the play and thoroughly inspired by Margi’s performance. If you make it to the show, do read up on Langley before you go — it will certainly give you more perspective on the work.