The three monologues performed in Heretic Voices are the inaugural fruit of a new writing competition and oh ye gods! What a bountiful harvest!
In Annie Fox’s Woman Caught Unaware a professor discovers her naked body has been posted and ridiculed on social media. It’s a powerful body: a body that has known love and grief, that can tell Rembrandt from Vermeer. It’s a body that understands exactly how to deconstruct the scopophilia that reduces the individual to how they appear, and yet is unable to shrug it off.
As the Professor, Amanda Boxer carries the cloak of respectability academia seems to endow, as if quantifiable knowledge can protect us from mockery and self-doubt. Her rejection of the resultant outrage seeking to make her an icon for victims of voyeurism everywhere is an excellent microcosm of well-meaning but inherently useless ally culture. This could so easily have been a tale of victimhood. Instead Fox’s writing gives us the dark laughter of Medusa: you shouldn’t look, but if you do, she can’t be held responsible for the consequences.
I will confess a bias as far as Sonya Hale’s Dean McBride is concerned. Anything set in Croydon instantly gets me rooting for the home crowd, chuck in a tram reference and my local vernacular and I’m practically standing on my chair demanding ‘Shut Up’. Damn this play is good, though. Addiction, urban deprivation and violence are part of the fabric of Dean’s life, not issues to be workshopped. The piece never drifts into poverty porn, instead giving us Dean’s story through his eyes. Eyes that might have seem too much too young but that can also see the beauty in the vistas of Addington.
Hale captures the rhythms of south London slang that have been underappreciated* for its musicality and comic potential. But Ted Reilly is miscast and can’t quite master the verbosity, resulting in some of the most hilarious lines being missed. However, this might be partly due to audiences not expecting characters in hoodies with hard lives that sound like Dean to be funny. These the scary boys you move away from at the station or who bad things happen to in teen dramas, they are the butt of the jokes never the tellers.
A Hundred Words for Snow (Tatty Hennessy) is the most finessed of the three, thanks to Max Gill’s direction that conjures a polar expedition out of an empty stage and one of those benches you had in your school hall. Rory (Lauren Samuels) steals her mum’s credit card and her father’s ashes and sets off for the North pole like some caper out of Skins. In a world of Google Maps, Rory’s explorations are as much about people as new horizons. Her body becomes uncharted landscape in her first sexual encounter, her mother is not the impossible ice ridge she assumed.
It’s a blockbuster of how the very pointless nature of human endeavor is what makes us so brilliant. We will risk our lives to see a little patch of ice that no one else has: ‘…people thought everything might be there except the one thing that is actually is there. Which is nothing.’
Seeing these three plays (selected from over 1000 entries) together is like witnessing a whole theatrical season condensed into an evening. It is also remarkable that across these unconnected pieces, refrains repeat: a father in an urn, women who want to be heard not simply seen and a longing for sincerity in a world of platitudes.
*No seriously, watch ‘Attack the Block’, them come at me cuz.
Heretic Voices is on until 20 January 2018 at the Arcola Theatre. Click here for more details.