Mule review at Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh – ‘compelling two-hander’

Edith Poor and Aoife Lennon in Mule at Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Edith Poor and Aoife Lennon in Mule at Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh. Photo: Stephanie Prior
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Mule takes its basis from the Peru Two: 20-year-old women from Northern Ireland and Scotland thrown into jail in South America for smuggling drugs.

Kicking off from this real-life story, writer and director Kat Woods has created a neat, interleaved two-hander, as personal as it is political, that plumbs the depths of our society without overstating the case – and provides a showcase for superb, compelling performances from Edith Poor and Aoife Lennon.

We find the pair in Ibiza, where they’re working in clubs to earn money to enjoy themselves the rest of the time. Soon, one has dragged the other into the seedy underlife of the clubs, sucked into the drugs trade that fuels the party world. In the blink of an eye they’re caught on the other side of the globe by customs officials in Peru, desperately trying to work out which story to tell the court.

The scenes that follow, split across time and geography, show them trying to make sense of how they so suddenly went from serving watered-down drinks to drug smuggling and how they deal with the aftermath in a hostile jail environment.

Without passing judgement, the play documents the fall-out from the exploitation of these women – the media sensationalism, the social media trolls, the prison violence, all of which affects not only the girls but also their families and friends.

Woods as a writer has a good nose for picking issues that work on stage, while as director she has the ability to bring out the best in her actors.

Utterly convincing throughout, Poor and Lennon skilfully hold down their central characters while flipping in and out of a supporting cast of journalists, prisoners, clubbers and guards. A neat cinematic element raises the bar even higher, as Woods creates character transitions that overlap like crossfades and scenes that are trimmed like clips with split-second timing.

Two-hander tackling a complex issue full on is a showcase for compelling performances