Caroline Burns Cooke is an exceptionally talented individual.
To hold an audience in the palm of one’s hand with a piece equal parts dark, light, uncomfortable and enjoyable is quite something; to do it entirely solo is quite another. But in ‘And The Rope Still Tuggiing Her Feet’ there were only two sounds from the audience: laughter, and pin-drop silence.
Inspired by Ireland’s Kerry Babies scandal in 1984, in which a young mother was accused of birthing and murdering two newborn babies, ‘And The Rope Still Tugging Her Feet’ is the tale of Leanne Gray, a single mother pregnant by a married man, with one daughter already born and another child on the way. An Irish Catholic at a time when – in the words of Bishop Joseph Cassidy – ‘the most dangerous place to be…is in the mother’s womb’, Leanne finds herself facing accusations so outlandish, so hurtful, that they tear her life, and her soul, apart.
Leanne aside, there is a cast of crass, cruel and kooky characters within this tale – from Kate the ‘radical lesbian feminist or an alcoholic, depending what meeting she’s in’ to Joseph ‘Captain Vronsky’ Locke – and each and every one of them is played by Caroline. Snapping in and out of the various personas, often in mere seconds, each with their own distinct way of speaking, their own mannerisms and their own story to tell, Caroline’s exquisite focus and characterisation gives equal weight to both absurdity and poignancy…and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which at first.
Take ‘superfecundation’, for example. Sounds like it should be a song, doesn’t it? Well, Caroline’s jolly little rewrite of ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius’ certainly brought the house down, and the room dissolved into laughter.
But the term is not, in fact, fabricated. Following the fun of the sing-song, it was revealed that the word was the name of a theory that claimed if a woman had sexual intercourse with two different men within 24 hours then she could feasibly give birth to twins, with each baby by a different father. Thrown as ‘evidence’ at the character of Leanne when the police were trying to prove she had birthed and murdered two babies, it may be fictional in this case…but it was a very real theory in 1980s Ireland.
Not so funny once you know what it means.
This is the tone of the whole of ‘And The Rope Still Tugging Her Feet’: just as you risk being swept away by the clever soundtrack or the comical dancing or the caricature-esque supporting characters, the facade is torn away and you’re left with nothing but the tragedy of Leanne Gray, staring you in the face, and you can’t help but feel some responsibility for her damaged soul, her lost sanity, as you watch her plead and cry and wail upon the floor.
At times uncomfortable in its subject matter, at times cartoonish in its physicality, but always moving and a piece that will stay with me for a long time to come, Caroline Burns Cooke’s ‘And The Rope Still Tugging Her Feet’ is a piece of theatre deserving of a place outside of the Fringe scene, and one that I challenge any audience member to walk away unaffected.