Written and performed by Bernadette Cremin
Directed by Mark Hewitt for LLL Productions
Sound design by John Avery
Lighting design by Becs Perkins
Photo (right) 'Joan' © Josh Pulman
Altered Egos is a one-woman show written and performed by award winning poet/performer Bernadette Cremin,
Six taut monologues reveal the lives of six women ‘surviving in the margins’. Vulnerable characters – “undaunted in the face of everything life throws at them” – defined by love, loss, sex and mental and physical illness.
Previewed as work-in-progress at Brighton Fringe 2010, the show received a runner up Latest Award for Best Literature Performance.
Bernadette Cremin is an award-winning poet and performer. She has published three collections of poetry: Perfect Mess (2006, Biscuit Publishing), Speechless (2007, Waterloo Press)), Miming Silence (2009, Waterloo Press) and a pamphlet, Loose Ends (2012, Pighog Press). A 'new & selected poems' will be published in 2013 by Irish publishers, Salmon Poetry.
“... the reminder we need of forgotten people, desperate lives that don’t grab headlines ... undaunted, bloodyminded ... she’s an important voice.” - Jackie Wills
In 2005 she was winner of the Biscuit Publishing International Poetry Competition. Her work is collected in the Metropolitan University of London's archive of Irish and Anglo-Irish Literature. In 2011 she was recipient of a New Voices award from DAO (Disability Arts Online), for whom she also published an online blog. During 2012 she was poet-in-residence on Brighton's Radio Reverb.
She has released three CDs combining poetry and music with a fourth (Mutual Territory) due to be released.
She has performed frequently at venues in Britain and Ireland, including major festivals such as Glastonbury, The Big Green, Replay Festival and Limerick International Poetry Festival. In 2000 she was winner of the South East Performance Poetry Bursary and in 2010 - for a scratch performance of Altered Egos - was runner up in The Latest awards for Best Literature Performance at the Brighton Fringe Festival.
The current touring production of Altered Egos was previewed to full houses and considerable acclaim at New Venture Theatre in Brighton during March 2012.
"The staging is simple and the props minimal. Bernadette can create atmosphere and people just by the way she sits on a chair. The Brighton based writer puts poetry into the mouths of the most unlikely characters, making them as articulate as they imagine they are in their heads and rarely are in real life. ... Altered Egos packs a powerful emotional punch. It is a show that makes you shiver, staying in the heart as well as the memory." - The Irish World (review by Bridget Whelan)
Reviews for Altered Egos
"Brighton-based poet, Bernadette Cremin pieces together a gorgeous and entrancing evening with these ‘six tales of untidy lives’. Playing the succession of characters, from debutante through to murderess, she hardly skips a beat. It’s an ask and what makes the performance is the pitch-perfect quality of observation with acuity of language/diction sacrosanct, as ever – ‘boning a soliloquy’, ‘the soft punch of jasmine taking my mind by the hand’. Slivers of verse from her three collections – Perfect Mess, Speechless and Miming Silence – make it into the mix and some of the monologues, council estate livewire, Tina Regan’s especially, trip off the tongue with bags of added verve. This should go next to London."
- Jan Goodey, The Latest 7 (Brighton - thelatest.co.uk)
"The staging is simple and the props minimal. Bernadette can create atmosphere and people just by the way she sits on a chair. The Brighton based writer puts poetry into the mouths of the most unlikely characters, making them as articulate as they imagine they are in their heads and rarely are in real life. ... Altered Egos packs a powerful emotional punch. It is a show that makes you shiver, staying in the heart as well as the memory."
- Bridget Whelan, The Irish World
"The monologues tell the ‘tales of six untidy lives’ and take the audience through a range of states and moods. The individual pieces hang together through themes of male domination and female perseverance. Energy levels rise and fall as each woman elucidates her response to her unique but potentially universal situation and predicament. The range of comedy and tragedy gives a shape to what could have been merely six separate and unrelated pieces, as does the merging of recorded extracts from the different monologues which play between each change. This effect also hints at the reality of the cacophony of thought by which ego, self and memory is played out in our minds.
Cremin uses simple costumes and props to distil the essence of each gripping character. There is Sophie, endlessly covering her hands with her sleeves while clutching a book entitled ‘Destroyed’. Tina wears a pink Nike hoody and velour tracksuit bottoms and clutches her mobile phone as if it were her talisman. Such small details are the swift brush strokes of characterisation which then allow the audience to be absorbed into the complexity of language Cremin delivers, shifting from dramatic speech to poetry and back with ease and fluidity.
In this regard, while the theatrical elements stayed in our minds, lines resonated and poetic imagery created another visual layer. This is testament to Cremin’s reputation as an accomplished poet. For Sophie, her thoughts were about the ‘mug rings’ and the assortment of bedroom furniture representing the ‘us between him and me’. Trudy, who provides a lively opener to the show, reveals her complexity while remaining witty – and strangely likeable, despite her spiteful, grade-A, caustic language. Conversely, the pre-interval character, is mumbling and at times barely comprehensible as she lies vulnerable on the stage yet leaves the audience haunted with the repeating phrase, “sending me back to the chemical circus.”
- Marian Cleary and Trish Wheatley, DAO (Disability Arts Online)
"In theatre, something happens when everyone present in the space is focused upon the same moment: an intensity akin to magic. This is the space which, in her sequence of monologues, Altered Egos, Bernadette Cremin choreographs, conducts and lights with her words and her animation of them. It’s a space which can be uncomfortable in its unflinching dissection of the truths in our lives: we do not have the luxury of averting our gaze from these women, whose every thought and gesture is lived within the inequalities of power relationships which they are striving to survive and to surmount. In the New Venture that night, once Cremin began her conjuring, you could have heard a pin drop. The words are powered by a poetry ruthless in its precise use of detail to summon character in time and place; in its forensic employment of the pause at the exact moment of revelation, of shiver down the spine. Cremin has something of the shanachie about her as she embodies these characters of her own crafting; she gives a woman’s slant to the heritage of Beckett, who might have been proud to shake her hand. Poetry, performance and engagement with audience made this a night to remember: each of these characters, in their crumpled; compromised and ultimately courageous existence, live on in a universal sense which has made them unforgettable."
- Maude Casey (writer)
"Cremin herself is rather small, with an incredibly mobile face that seems to change shape when it registers different emotions. She uses clothing and wigs to alter the shape of her body too, with some of her women looking much taller and slimmer than others. We first meet Trudy, tall, round-faced and blonde in a red and black striped blazer - a spoilt Daddy's girl recounting predatory sexual adventures in Barcelona as she languidly sips champagne. Then there's a blackout and a quick change to Sophie, dark haired in a dull brown skirt and off-white jumper; body language completely defensive as she clutches her arms around herself while she tells of discovering her husband's infidelity. She seems incredibly vulnerable, a small seated figure in a pool of light, surrounded by darkness.
This is probably the point to mention the sound. It's an integral part of this production, flooding the Studio space with a patchwork of noises and voices suggesting context and supporting the mood. For example - as Sophie attempts to come to terms with her betrayal, we hear her insistent inner voice out of the surrounding darkness, her Superego really, cutting through her evasions - "Oh, Sophie - head in the clouds - head in the sand …" and "a man has needs, Sophie, you should have taken care of them …" And as Val, the final character of the six (short hair - Cremin's own, glasses, looks like a teacher), sits at the interview table in what must be a prison or police station, the voice of her investigator is soft but insistent out of the dark, while Val keeps her eyes down and doodles compulsively on a pad as she recounts abuse by her partner, his murder of their baby and that she eventually ("he taught me how to wait …he taught me how to hate …") killed him.
These are all very damaged women. After Trudy and Sophie, we meet Patsy. She seems to have suffered abuse at the hands of her uncle, been driven to self-harm which has led to her hospitalisation. We see her lying on the floor curled up in a foetal position, in a hospital nightgown under a single stark hanging lamp. She remains completely still, only her eyes and mouth work as she speaks softly into a microphone which makes her voice huskier and is mixed with distorted sounds of the hospital, as experienced by the drugged-up Patsy - "sending me back to the chemical circus …"
- Strat Mastoris, New Venture Theatre
"The production worked as a whole thanks to a clear structure, a range of characterisation and tone and an often intense performance from Bernadette Cremin, who was able to bring across something between an interior monologue which the characters told themselves, and a direct address to the audience, looking us in the eye. The writing and performance was varied in style, from apparently straightforward narration to more evocative, wandering, poetry – this again created the range of tone that kept the performance dynamic as a whole. The sound, production design and direction was particularly effective. Always a sparse set, the characters were brought to life through a range of movement (or inertness) and positioning – from a character sitting rigidly in a chair with another at her side, waiting for a husband who may or may not return, to a patient laid low and twisted on the ground, though still facing the audience and amplified by a microphone laying in front of her. Each piece was interspersed with a deliberately disorienting sound design, with extracts that seemed to anticipate or echo the monologues and leave them resonating in the theatre space.
Whilst this range of voice and style gave a momentum and interest to the work as a whole, it also resulted in significant variation in the impact of the individual monologues. Some pieces stood out as particularly compelling – either in scenario, tone and usually in both – for example the measured, tense narration of the woman who had lost her husband, which contained an almost unutterable sadness, or the bold testimony (and possible confession) of a woman about the violent death of her abuser. In these pieces there was a rich ambiguity – whether in the scenario, the moral standpoint or in the suggested relationship between the character and the audience – that provided an emotional depth and intrigue to the pieces, matched often by Bernadette’s most beautifully woven writing. Arguably these moments were also where, as a performer, Bernadette most successfully embodied her characters (there were a few moments that appeared more ‘acted out’).
The production was an interesting – and still quite rare – example of how a poet and her work can be translated into a live production.
- John Prebble (Arts Council England)