Review: Pumpgirl

Striking a perfect balance of comedy and tragedy, ‘Pumpgirl’ offers much to behold and a script which tugs at the heart strings.

Embarking on a regional tour around Ireland, the Decadent Theatre Company’s production of ‘Pumpgirl’ pays a visit to the Smock Alley theatre’s Main Space.

Having been written over 10 years ago by playwright Abbie Spallen, the play carries themes which resonate as sharply today as they did back when it was first produced. Exploring the lives of those growing up and living in a near-neglected region in Newry, it turns the spotlight onto the disturbing effects of toxic masculinity in a modern society.

The story follows Pumpgirl (Jolene O’Hara), a proud Antrim woman, who harbours a deep crush on Hammy (Patrick Ryan), who is a regular customer in the gas station where she works. O’Hara manages to capture the brass and tomboyish natures of Pumpgirl’s, whilst still showcasing her deep sadness and vulnerable side. She’s funny, loveable, a bit unstable, yet filled with deep compassion and love. The audience immediately fall for her wicked grin and devilish sense of humor. 

Seona Tully counterbalances Pumpgirls’ ‘rough and ready’ approach to life, in the role of Sinead – Hammy’s wife. Sinead is often neglected, overlooked, and craves affection. After finding herself entangled in an affair with Shawshank, she becomes wracked with guilt over the damage this will cause to her marriage. Once again, the audience can’t help but fall for her. Tully’s depiction is truly harrowing, and represents the everyday woman is often left forgotten in the shadows. 

Hammy (Patrick Ryan) rounds up the trio, with a characterization that is tough, prudish, and unseemly. Ryan’s charisma pokes through Hammy’s intensely dislikeable persona, transforming the character from a two-dimensional villain, to someone is equally as complex as those we are rooting for.

Told through a collection of monologues between the three cast members, who stand on seperate podiums, the production reinforces the true power of straight storytelling. There is minimal movement through the play, directed by Andrew Flynn, yet the space feels as if it constantly expanding and contracting as the story unfolds.

Spallen’s script is frank and honest, having been penned to uncover the horrors of sexual assault, and the complex emotions one goes through when someone you love so deeply treats you so cruelly.

The universal writing rule of ‘show don’t tell’ isn’t always the way to go. There can be so much told with just the beauty of prose and the spoken word – and this production of ‘Pumpgirl’ proves just that. 

Catch ‘Pumpgirl’ as it travels around Ireland on its 2019 tour. See here for dates and tickets. 

Review by Kevin Worrall

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