KillyMuck @ Underbelly Bristo Square

A semi-autobiographical play about growing up poor that is charming, angry, affecting and relevant

Review by Jon Stapley | 15 Aug 2018
  • KillyMuck

Writer and director Kat Woods based this play on her own experiences of growing up on a council estate in Northern Ireland. It’s the story of the grinding cycle of poverty and a hand-to-mouth, benefits-based existence. The focus is Niamh, who lives on the Killymuck estate with her family. Born in 1979, Niamh lives through the austerity of the Thatcher years, and she relays to us the struggle of growing up in a society that seems specifically designed to grind her down.

Niamh is played by Aoife Lennon, who gives a courageous and committed performance; she’s astonishingly good. Niamh is a charming creation. Even while life is at its worst, she smiles that impish smile as the family finds joy in the smallest moments: grabbing cuttings of neighbours’ plants for her mother’s beloved garden, swiping biscuits from the neighbour’s jar.

Not that Niamh isn’t angry. Even from a young age she can see the ways the system is rigged to deny her opportunities. She is immediately dismissed by her teachers as one of the “kids from the estate” on whom it’s not worth expending effort; she doesn’t even get taught the same subjects as the richer kids.

The play at first can seem disconnected, unstructured even, as Niamh takes us through seemingly disparate events in her life. You have to take a step back to see how everything connects – how the abusive boys on the estate contribute to Niamh’s short temper, which in turn reinforces her teachers’ belief she’s incapable of achieving anything. This is just one example. These details are all weave together so intricately to tell you in no uncertain terms that this is what it’s like. This is why people from poorer backgrounds struggle to escape the cycle: it’s not one thing, it’s everything.

KillyMuck, Underbelly Bristo Square (Jersey), 1-27 Aug, 18.25pm, £9-10

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