Early in Superhoe, Sasha tells us that she first got together with her boyfriend (current, not ex, as she continues to insist for much of the play) Anton when she was thirteen, and he’s three years older. She doesn’t dwell on this for a second, just filling us in, and it’d be easy to miss. Catch it, though, and the play’s grim progress…
What, exactly? It doesn’t make the plot of Superhoe more awful: Sasha’s story is awful no matter if that happened in your childhood or not. And it doesn’t make what happens make a certain kind of sense, either. But it does allow for writer Nicôle Lecky to more unblinkingly focus her gaze at the full weight of the system of patriarchy, misogyny and objectification as it presses down upon Sasha, whom she also plays.
Lecky doesn’t return to this particular thread – of underage sexual exploitation – for a long time. When she does, it’s to set off another landmine beneath our feet, and to this time make sure we feel the damage.
Superhoe is a slow, long slide into horror after horror: pushed into camming, then sex work, Sasha tries to decide whether this is what she wants to be doing, whether she’s in control of anything at all, including her image on her Instagram. As Sasha, Lecky has a chin-raised defiance about her as well as a childishness: at twenty-four, life should be better than this. Her musical ambitions are suffocated by her own anxiety, month after month, her family don’t get her, are frustrated at her, she’s running out of money and it increasingly seems to be the one thing she needs. And as we hear from Sasha, biracial, about her “perfect trio” of a white family, it’s a reminder of how little theatre there is that explores what it’s like when you’re racially outnumbered at home. Lecky’s awareness of weird undercurrents like these is another way she quietly shades in the background of this story.
As Sasha, Lecky is defiant, funny and painful to watch, her entire body stiff with everything that happens to her, and she assumes other characters and accents easily, especially as Carly, an apparent friend to Sasha, and Delrose. Delrose is the only other Black woman we see Lecky become, and the one person to treat Sasha with real, unconditional understanding and compassion. The still way Lecky regards us as Delrose makes you feel that yeah, this is the only person who can see Sasha as she is: someone in need, from the very outset of the play.
Chloe Lamford’s set underscores Sasha’s lack of home with its wide, shallow, mostly bare space, playful but somehow cold, with its pink carpet and mint-green walls. Jade Lewis’ direction keeps that horrible slide going without pause, aided by irreverent and, later, more heartfelt music by Lecky herself and The Last Skeptik. An ATM and blown-up phone-shaped screen repeatedly ask Sasha if she’s ready to fulfill her dreams, if she wants a hug, warn her “You’ll be broke BISH!” and display her deceptively perfect online profile to varying success.
There’s room here to make these interludes more pointed, and the pictures purportedly from her Instagram a little more polished. For a younger audience more used to seeing the kind of luxe, bougie “content” Sasha uploads, the photos and even font used on the stickers and hashtags in her Instagram stories are likely to be unwieldy, an instant alienator from what we’re meant to be believe here. Which is in itself interesting, and someone more clued up than me should open up a discussion about the “faithful” depiction of social media in our art and whether it’s useful (for my money, Ingrid Goes West (2017) has done it to good, creepy effect).
Superhoe is uncomplicated when it comes to plot, but far from that when it comes to Lecky’s feel for the detail of life as a woman, as a black woman, as a working class black woman, as a young person whose choices seem to keep being made for her. It visibly splits the Royal Court audience a little, as a Talawa show will maybe continue to do for a while. If painful fun exists, this is it.
Superhoe is on at Royal Court until 16th February. More info here.