My friendships with the women in my life are probably some of the most complex, detailed and gory relationships I’ve ever had. They are completely precious and horrifically ugly, gentle and tender and full of cruelty and violence.
When I was watching The Hoes I became intensely aware of the lack of these relationships on our stages. It’s an obvious point, for sure, but it kinda creates this odd double consciousness, wherein Ifeyinwa Frederick’s debut play feels simultaneously radical and commonplace. Radical because this is The Hampstead, and three young black women talking openly about the word “cunt” is not a regular occurrence here, but commonplace because the conversations reflect exactly the ebb and flow of discussions I’ve had curled up in bed after a night out, while I’ve been eating lunch outside the library, shouted across a smoking area at 2am. Commonplace also, perhaps, because of Frederick’s traditional one-room play structure – but we’ll get to that.
Frederick nails the relationships – the cruelty intermingled with the care, the fear and love and irritation all mixed up and slapped together. They’re lavishly, tenderly sketched out, allowed room to breathe and be (God forbid!) funny and thorny and contradictory. I could watch them rip the shit out of each other all day. Alex, Bim and J – friends since school, now in their mid-20s, in Ibiza for a girls holiday where, inevitably, the real world gets dragged in and untold issues rise to the surface. Anna Reid’s design is a hilariously, enticingly tacky hotel bedroom which looks like it was pulled straight from the Love Island set – all sunset blues and oranges, beautiful for a moment and then increasingly sickly and claustrophobic.
There are a lot of issues getting covered in The Hoes, something that for the most part it gets away with because of the relaxed chemistry between the three women, facilitated by Lakesha Arie-Angelo’s easy-going direction. Mental illness, sexual assault, gender politics, the politics of attraction – it’s all crammed in and you begin to see the seams of the piece straining. There are moments when certain plot points are signalled a little too clearly, when you can see the cogs inside the play turning. Maybe that’s inevitable in a one-room play – there’s very little space to hide and the introduction of new plot points can become overly pronounced. But then, every time that does occur, there’s a hysterically funny line to compensate. Musing on how attraction is inherently politicised and racialised, it’s remarked offhand that white penises “look like uncooked chicken”, a line which made me choke with laughter. And Frederick does this beautifully – introduce A Serious Point and then immediately undercut it with a brutal joke – the way, you know, your actual friends do.
The most fundamental problem, however, is a plot-point which gets introduced three quarters of the way into the play which feels rushed. Maybe that’s a comment on the nature of the issue – how it can be random and abrupt, how it can happen at any time. But it doesn’t quite work – it feels tacked on, not as fully allowed to breathe as other things in the script are. But what Frederick does is emphasise that none of these issues have easy resolutions – none of them can be solved over the duration of a week-long trip to Ibiza with your closest friends. They’re lifelong things which weigh on the head and the heart and necessitate the support of the people around you.
So not perfect, no. But then again, very few friendships are.
The Hoes runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 1st December. More info here.