In her essay Shakespeare’s Sisters, Rachel Cusk examines the knotty ties between a woman’s domestic situation and her literary output, quoting Virginia Woolf’s supposition that so-called “female literature” will be “shorter, more fragmentary, interrupted, ‘for interruptions there will always be’.”
Valeria Luiselli’s novel Faces in the Crowd, the story of a mother snatching brief moments to write a book based on memories of her younger, pre-parenthood life in New York, is a perfect example of this theory in action.
The text is written in brief sections, the novel’s plot interspersed with wails from the baby monitor, queries from her son or dialogue with her husband. As the protagonist says: “Novels need a sustained breath… Everything I write is – has to be – in short bursts.”
Ellen McDougall’s deft stage adaptation preserves this collage-like format, both in the script and the staging. As the Woman, Jimena Larraguivel narrates from within a tornado of domesticity – a world of toys, kitchen tables, glasses, bottles and work debris.
Despite the sheer volume of stuff accumulating around her, Larraguivel is a commanding presence. The younger version of herself, the one who “slept very little”, is someone she mourns, but the creative grown woman spinning all the plates is, in many ways, more impressive.
McDougall’s production is gorgeously lit by Jessica Hung Han Yun and unafraid to be wild and messy, but what’s most fascinating is its refusal to deny the impact a home life has on a woman’s story.