The Alphabet Girl

Kaitlin Howard winner Best Fringe Performance at Manchester Theatre Awards 2015

Philip Larkin famously coined a phrase describing the way in which parents unintentionally warp the lives of their offspring. According to ‘The Alphabet Girl’, by Renny Krupinski, Larkin didn’t know the half of it.

In the present day Ivy Winner (sole performer Kaitlin Howard) takes lovers in alphabetical order of their names. This obsessive approach may be attributed to her upbringing and she affectionately recalls the unorthodox behaviour of her grandmother Maisy and her mother Lily. Yet flashbacks to the past reveal a darker truth that lies behind apparently innocent expressions and may be shaping a tragedy in the present. Krupinski’s script is beautifully constructed with clues hidden in the dialogue that achieve a horrible significance at a later stage. In fact the script is so literate and evocative that at times you wonder if the characters, soaked in gin and overcome by bitterness, would be quite so eloquent in real life. Or perhaps the elegance of the script helps cover some inconsistencies – it is hard to work out the timeline for key events revealed in the final scene.

The play is essentially a psychological chiller in the style of Martin McDonagh but, possibly to achieve maximum shock effect, Krupinski conceals its true nature for some time. The initial impression is that of a series of character studies and Howard’s initially naturalistic performance helps to maintain the deception. Krupinski picks up the pace as the play progresses and makes excellent use of sound effects to achieve a striking conclusion.

Kaitlin Howard gives a remarkable performance creating three very different characters. The rather gushing and somewhat naïve Ivy gives way to the embittered Maisy whose love life is described as never getting above tepid yet who regarded her courtship as the happiest days of her life. Lily is a particular triumph; Howard adopts an accent that shows no trace of her humble origins and makes Lily’s defensive use of her body and brittle nature frightening rather than eccentric. The characters draw sympathy being depicted sharing the urge to escape, whether from a squalid home life or an inappropriate sexuality, but Howard ensures that the sneaky and sly self-justification of the deceiver is also apparent.

‘The Alphabet Girl’ remains a powerful play with a superb central performance.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

Comment by Diana Stenson

As David outlines here we have one performer, Kaitlin Howard, taking on the three roles of Grandmother, Mother, and Daughter.  The time span goes back to WW1 slums, WW2 blitz, swinging Sixties, and the present.   I found the chronology switches a bit difficult to follow despite clues but the simmering background rests on these three rackety women with a destructive genetic inheritance of always picking the Wrong Man, or failing to keep a Mr.Right.  This is a considerable challenge for Howard who takes her time settling into the first two monologues but she gradually relaxes into the roles and smoothly takes charge of all three.  Each character is recalling their own past, or being remembered by the other two.  Krupinski has skilfully created this female trio who one could describe as “goers” but non too likeable and certainly not  best friend material.  They betray husbands, steal daughters boyfriends, hush babies with gin and maybe even commit the ultimate sin.   Unlike my colleague, this draws no sympathy from me.

Not every actor would or could take on these demands. Kaitlin Howard bravely copes with it all.

Comment by Kevin Bourke

I found this piece enthralling and, like my colleagues, think that Kaitlin Howard delivers a bravura performance in a difficult series of roles. I also feel there’s something to be said for keeping an audience ever-so-slightly off-balance with the shifts in time and perspective, appreciating the somewhat dream-like quality this lends to the otherwise precise and often poetic monologues. Or maybe that’s just me as I admit I’d missed most of the subtle clues to the shocking denouement! Not flawless, and I agree that the pacing early on doesn’t do poor Kaitlin any favours, but a highly intriguing piece that amply repays the attention of any intelligent and patient audience.