A reassuringly domestic scene greets us as we file into the theatre: on one side of the stage stands a forest of table lamps, while on the other, a young woman sits at a sewing machine. This is Soairse – don't worry, you'll learn how to pronounce it – and as soon as she speaks, you can tell she's not all that used to company. There's a host of evocative detail in Eva O'Connor's solo monologue, which begins by remembering happy childhood games played in the black-and-white hallway of Soairse's rural Irish home. But there's something missing from this young woman's life… for while she has a gruffly loving father and a brother to look up to, her mum lives on only in photographs, stashed away in albums her dad can't bear to view.
With no mother or sister at home, Soairse's only female guide is her wayward school friend, Siobhan. At first Siobhan's bad influence extends little further than drinking milk directly from the bottle – but as the two girls grow older, she comes to exert a more ambiguous pressure on Soairse's life. The teenage Siobhan seems precocious, but perhaps doesn't know quite as much about the world as she claims, and O'Connor extracts a lot of humour from the two girls' preoccupation with their changing bodies. On the day I attended, it was all received with sympathetic laughs from an attentive audience – who plainly enjoyed this gentle portrait of young women discovering both their voice and their sexuality.
But there, of course, is the rub. It's not hard to guess that something will go wrong in either Soairse's or Siobhan's world… and that inexperience with men will lie at their story's core. The script perhaps takes a little too long to come to the point, but O'Connor delivers a sensitive and enlightening portrayal of both main characters, contrasting their foibles and insecurities without ever stooping to judge them.
The wordy, nuanced plot could bear some simplification, and Soairse's sewing machine – forever visible at the side of the stage – feels rather under-employed. All in all, I felt O'Connor's self-penned monologue would benefit from a couple of stronger motifs, and perhaps some variation to the rigorously chronological structure of the storyline. With little in the way of foreshadowing, the crucial twist comes almost mood-shatteringly abruptly – although that does serve to highlight the fact that, in the real world, life-changing events can happen suddenly too.
There's another thing that's surprisingly quick, described simply and powerfully under an unforgiving spotlight, and it's this controversial episode which provides the moral meat of the play. I'd thought I already understood the topic at hand, but I'm a man, not a woman; I'm 38 not 18, and crucially, I didn't grow up in rural Ireland. So while My Name Is Saoirse offers few ready answers, it's enlightening all the same – sharing an important new perspective on a fearsomely sensitive question.