small scratch, Hampstead Downstairs review

To tackle a formally daring novel, the recent small scratch, Mitchell and his adapter, Miriam Battye, have come up with something so inventive that works perfectly in the small space down at Hampstead.

Watson’s novel features a day in the mind of a young woman who hides the fact that she was raped. We follow the woman’s restlessness as she goes through the motions of a “normal” day – getting ready for work, getting to work, killing time at the office, the scene of her assault. Her distraction technique involves scratching until she bleeds. Her words are spilled onto the page in clusters and fragments, with lines spaced apart to convey long pauses, as her mind tries to piece together whirlpools of half-formed emotions and dodge the triggers that will bring back her terrifying trauma. Bold on the right side of the page are excerpts from the external voices she hears – her colleagues, an automatic phone message, an HR decree about her job.

Mitchell’s move is to attribute these stuttered thoughts to four speakers, who stand in front of the microphones in front of the audience and, with extraordinary skill and control, create a barrage of words: sometimes fluid passages, more often bursts. jerks as the woman’s mind questions relentlessly. . Eve Ponsonby (photo above) is the one whose utterances seem to be closest to the surface of a woman’s consciousness; Eleanor Henderson duet with her as a much less sure voice, a questioning echo; Moronke Akinola is the most rational, almost abrupt at times as she tries to skate on the trauma of the woman; and Ragevan Vasan is a mischievous commentator, while also taking on the male “roles” in the story – the woman’s colleagues and her boyfriend.

It’s sort of a staged radio play, except the description isn’t quite right. Like the radio performers, the actors are equipped with props to create their own sound effects, raking a large clothes brush to simulate teeth cleaning, and throwing a glass of water when the character is drinking. But when the four of them pick up a prop and start using it, you realize that they are performing some sort of verbal string quartet, the lines of the “score” creeping, plunging and plunging, rarely in unison. , like a passage of music. And in fact, seeing it on stage is more powerful than just listening to a recording. The actors are superb, forcing us to try and shape a cohesive picture from the fragments delivered.

A fifth character should be mentioned: the sound design by Melanie Wilson and her team. It takes us, from the first minute, into a space we can’t quite identify, where an otherworldly hum is slowly penetrated by not quite normal sounds such as a distorted telephone alarm. As we move through the character’s day, this soundscape comes and goes, conveying the heightened danger of her relived trauma, the grim tone of the rapist, the cooing of a dastardly poetry reading her boyfriend gets. take him.

Miraculously, it’s an evening punctuated with humor and wit and by no means an unrelieved litany of intense pain and anxiety. The woman we live in is convincingly real, and her stumbles and fumbles are all too familiar. It’s a world where bored salespeople watch Dr. Pimplepopper on their phones and munching on Salt and Vinegar Hula Hoops is fun. For the woman, this world is a safer space, where she hopes that her picking of scabs will cease to be a metaphor. “I will be me! Not raped, almost… ”Such a deeply sad line. But the public is not weighed down by misery but carried by anger and sympathy, armed for a response.

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