Greenside @ Nicolson Square – Fern Studio
The premise of Brain Hemingway is both intriguing and engrossing. The audience watches as Erin Murray Quinlan, a writer specialising in musical theatre, is given 45 minutes by her producer to present a demo of a song she is working on. Hamstrung by a severe case of writer’s block, Quinlan’s situation is compounded by the arrival of none other than Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway is portrayed as recognisable yet infuriating. Evan Quinlan deftly captures his bravado, experience, and penchant for concision and ruthlessness. He is very much the Romantic figure of our imagination, sipping on “Hemingway Daiquiris”. However, what Brain Hemingway relentlessly underscores is that this is not a figment of our imagination, but Erin’s. Through this, attention is constantly shifted back to Erin’s distraught psyche, and this helps to break Hemingway down into the rarely highlighted myth, frailty and misogyny that are central to his identity. Hemingway is moved to the margins, which creates a truly refreshing dynamic. Our journey into Erin’s inner self is extensive, as she unpicks her artistic process and uncovers the pressure, anxiety and self-doubt that plague her past and writing.
Quinlan excels as Erin. Her frustration and confusion are compelling and realistic, painting a nuanced portrait of self-sabotage. Her stubborn resilience in the face of Hemingway’s acerbity lends their relationship an often-hilarious dynamic that also prevents either character from dominating the play.
Paul Boyd’s direction and Sarah Langley’s choreography makes incredible use of Fern Studio’s small stage. One moment Erin is cowering behind her piano as Hemingway incessantly interrupts her, the next she is attacking him with a barrage of slaps, infuriated at her own mind. Quinlan’s writing captures the intricacy of a mental breakdown with clarity: this situation lays bare the chaos of Erin’s mind in a manner which is engaging and sympathetic.
Music slowly creeps into the production, culminating in a concluding musical number, complete with top hats and canes. This is the perfect amount of surreal – never feeling awkward or shoehorned in, it provides a hopeful and happy conclusion. Brain Hemingway is distinctive in the excellent story that it crafts, offering a grounded and intimate exploration of the stress and pressure we often heap onto ourselves.
Written and composed by: Erin Murray Quinlan
Directed by: Paul Boyd
Choreographed by: Sarah Langley
Produced by: Tawnydog Productions
Brain Hemingway has completed its run at this year’s EdFringe.