The walls are tight and firm.
They press in.
It’s not enough time.
I’m not in a box.
There is light above me. It’s bright and warm and glorious.
Take. A. Beat.
Breathe in the light.
Then try again.
Just a push.
A gentle nudge.
Stop the fighting.
They push back.
My chest burns and my heart smacks against my ribs. My heart pushes the wall.
You’re not the first one to get trapped.
Not the first one to fight.
Not the first one to give in.
I can get out of this.
But so do I.
There is a noise.
A head looks down onto me. The light behind is so blinding I can’t make it out.
“Do you need help?”
Of course I do.
But I can’t ask for it.
This crushing pressure.
I must conquer it alone.
I shout back.
The head is gone. Pulled back. Light fills the void again.
The suddenness of it blinds me.
My chest is tight again.
They scream for release.
Beg for it.
Yearn for it.
But my arms.
I feel them vacant.
The walls shift.
With the epiphany.
This idea of the difference.
No longer crushing.
No longer frighting.
No longer constricting.
I lean my brow, cold with sweat against the wall in front of me.
I thank it.
They keep in what’s outside.
To some I am a pill pusher. They see the body. They poke it and scratch it and make it bleed. They see it take and grab and eat up all they have. They roll their eyes and sigh at it. They see the bad.
To them I am Wonder Woman. The body can lift them up as high as the moon. It can show them wonders and magic. It is a font of knowledge and all life flows through it.
To him I am a goddess, the body is his temple and I let him worship at it. His strong arms surround me and I’m. safe and whole and warm. His kisses, his touches, he doesn’t see the weak.
To most I am a cripple. Someone to help. The body is without strength. The body is fragile and needs to be protected. The body cannot do this , it cannot do that.
To her I am the baby. To her the body is something to be stroked, helped. The body needs picking up and dusting off. The body needs saving.
To me I am all. I fly. I sing. I dance. I eat. I sleep. I dream. I laugh. The body is nothing. The body is the casing. The body is limits. I am limitless.
Somewhere between writing and not. Between poem and story. Somewhere between my mind and hers. There was this.
His hand slammed down on my shoulder. Big and heavy. That one gesture. That one weight rooted me. Long tendrils of fear from that hand flowed down my shoulder, into my arm down to the floor sticking me there. Trails of goosebumps rose on my neck. I felt every single one pop. The hand squeezed. Give me zombies. Give me blood stained sociopaths. But not that hand.
I felt his fingers tense, I hadn’t responded quick enough. I knew every inch of those fingers. Those knuckles. I turned my head, slowly. I felt the smile turn my lips up, muscle memory. My eyes didn’t change. I could feel the fear radiating out from them like headlights. Eyes are harder to lie with.
His find mine. He knows I’m afraid and his lips twitch with the knowledge. “Where are you going?” He repeated in a voice like a boulder. “Safs” One word. It’s best to respond simply. Limited syllables. Less to provoke. He breathed out. He’s too close, I smell the grease on his breath. He’s always too close. “Big bag” he says. He’s talking about the rucksack. The one on my back. The one containing my train ticket. The one that won’t make it to Safs. I didn’t respond. It wasn’t a question.
He slowly released my shoulder one digit at a time. I go to leave. Too quickly. He hasn’t backed away yet. My bag catches him lightly in the chest. He shoves me back. Hard. I fall. My head hit a knob of a drawer or cupboard. It doesn’t matter. It hurt but I don’t make a sound. He looks down at me. He’s panting now. Not from exercise. I stare back at him. Waiting. Let him take the lead. Don’t argue. Don’t respond unless asked a question. I think he will kneel down. I wait for him to lower himself. For him to reach out a hand. For him to.
He doesn’t. He turns. Back to the couch. He slumps down on to it and the it groans. I pull myself up. I turn slower this time. I’m nearly at the door. I’m nearly gone. I reach. He speaks. “Tea. Before you go” I look back. He’s back to the telly. Watching at some trashy rubbish.
I think about leaving. About just going. Who cares if I make the last cup of tea. Then I feel the fear inside. Like a sleeping child. The what if. The consequence. I lower my outstretched hand. I walk into the kitchen and flick the light on. The energy saving bulb lights the room like twilight. The kettle boils with an imagined drag. I know it’s not taking any longer than usual. But it feels like hours.
It happened in moments. I was putting the sweeteners back. I was closing the door and then I didn’t. I reached for a second bottle. A bottle with a printed label. A bottle with a child lock. I didn’t even realise I was about to drop them in until I saw my hand hovering over the cup. The tablets made a plop when they went in. Plop. So mundane. Plop. Not even really a splash.
I walked back into the living room. I placed the mug in front of him. He said nothing. He did nothing. I should’ve left. But I didn’t. I sat next to him. I sat next to him for thirty minutes as he finished his tea. I sat next to him as his head lulled and he gagged. As little white bubbles formed at his mouth. I sat next to him as his eyes rolled towards me. I sat next to him while he died. Then I left. I opened the door and walked out. Free?
“We grow out of the things we love”
Harrogate is an eighty minute piece without interval, it is divided into three definite and powerful acts, consisting of two performers and a simplistic set. The main star of this powerful and intense play is the writing itself which is textured and rich. The audience are immediately taken out of their comfort zone when for the first few minutes of action the house lights remained up. We felt naked and on display, this is was not going to be comfortable.
The play takes us through three encounters of Him’s life he never leaves the stark and bright stage but interacts with female characters that come and go. Initially Him is in charge of the situation, he controls the conversation with his daughter and almost directs her like an author writing a script. A surface level father daughter exchange feels odd and false. He criticises her grammar sternly but fully allows her to swear and drink in front of him. Things are not as they appear. The audience is jarred and took a collective intake of breath when the dynamics shift in the last section of this first act.
The second act mirrors this first significantly but in this instance the female character leads the conversation. She is more tangible, realistic and human than the former. The way Smith wrote Her in this second act is amazing. A hormonal mess, wrapped in love and anguish, this character was truly the most sympathetic of the three Ridgeway played. The muted and monotone stage was a perfect backdrop for the colour and visual splendour Her’s dialogue created. The names of off stage characters “Mr White and Mr Dark” were a clear nod to the idea that for Him nothing of any substance existed out of this room. Towards the end of this act, the audience becomes more aware of the sinister undertones that are felt throughout the play.
The third and final act was a raw and intense experience, no longer a passive audience member I felt my whole body tense up. It was like watching an eclipse, the self-preserving urge to look away only overcome by the magnetic pull to stare at the horrific. We sat riveted with a disgusted curiosity as Smith made us feel empathy for a character struggling deeply with a mental illness that causes thoughts he doesn’t want but cannot fight. By the end of the play I had deep imprints of my nails in the palms of my hand and my back ached from tension. Like the characters within Harrogate we were all truly “swept away”
Each act was finished and started with electronic interruptions, the lights shifted and old music played distortedly. It seemed that the white room that was the entire set was a living representation of Him’s mental state and the suggestion of electronic interference worked wonderfully to suggest faulty synaptic pathways and mental break down. I cannot fault Harrogate in anyway, there was nothing I would change, and having talked to a few other audience members this feeling was mutal.
A harrowing and raw piece, an absolute must see and see again.
Jess and Joe Forever sounding like something you might find carved into an old tree this it seems was the idea behind it. The play is set as the audience enter; there is a worn chequered carpet on which stands speakers, microphones and an enigmatic pile of dirt. The show begins without incident as the only two performers arrive onstage to wander about making direct and awkward looks towards the audience. An immediate sign that this play will directly include us. After a few moments the lights dim and those voices within the audience questioning “Is it starting yet?” are silenced. The play tells the story of a childhood friendship that blossoms into an adolescent romance and something resembling love.
Both actors did a really good job at portraying a lot younger than they were through physical posturing and voice intonation. Although these skills were great at creating character their immature voices forced the audience to hunt for subtext and emotional depth. There are the highlighted plot points such as a comment on class divide. The use of an absent au pair immediately sets up Jess as affluent and Joe’s consistent manual work and awkwardness toward Jess’s life places him in a contrasting role. It took a long time for me to decide that I liked the piece. The direct addressing of the audience and the bickering between the characters was clunky and reminiscent of a student production. Some of the plot points were glaringly obvious like Jess’s emotional state. She was constantly referred to as “Fat” by herself, Joe and other off stage characters. It was no surprise that this became a focal point later in the play.
Contrastingly, Joe’s emotional state however was completely shrouded in subtlety, whilst leading the audience in one direction I was stunned when towards the end of the show the penny dropped. Without being too revealing, I want to point out that Joe’s issue is important in today’s adolescence and youth. As a placid audience member I was thrilled by the reveal of the twist but I was slightly saddened to think this poignant issue was not addressed explicitly earlier on. I feel very much that I would like to watch it again having known what I know now.
Having talked to other audience members this sense of frustration I felt at having to connect the dots in some areas and then not think at all at other times was something a lot of them mirrored. However after further thought I can’t help thinking about one line from Joe “The edges stuff is really little”.
This play wanted us to forget the emotional depth, forget the deeper meaning and forget the immaturity of the story telling. This play was really about love and to really enjoy it you need to remember that. Try to forget the edges and focus on what you are actually seeing and hearing. Gender, sexuality and class; these are unimportant when you realise what you are watching which is acceptance and love. Although I spent a lot of Jess and Joe Forever with a confused frown on my face it is a piece that has stuck with me and a day later I’m finding my thoughts drawn back to it. Although flawed at times, this play is really worth seeing.
When thinking of Harlow Playhouse, intimate gigs with live unsigned bands is not generally the image conjured up. When booking tickets for BBC Music Introducing Essex I was totally unsure of what the evening would entail. When arriving at the newly revamped playhouse bar and café the atmosphere was very different from any I had experienced there. There was a buzz in the air, the general age was a lot younger and the unmistakable background noise of sound checks was humming through the walls. When entering the Studio, a small black box type theatre that often shows personal and provocative theatre shows I was pleased to find it was also transformed into a music space. Most of the seats were out of use and where the performance space typically was was filled with high tables and a small crowd holding pints and chatting nosily. The stage, if you can call it that was placed at one wall and a microphone stood front and centre invitingly. BBC Music Introducing Essex had transformed this familiar theatre space into a music lounge.
After a very short and clipped introduction the first of the unsigned artists “Reigns” took the stage. At first glance Reigns’ image is memorable, she stands in an almost timid way, styled in a cross between Daenerys Targaryen and Sporty Spice I was eager to see if her music matched her unique look. The timidity she’d shown whilst introducing songs melts away as she starts to sing and a ferocious and powerful presence is revealed. Her voice, mixed with each track harmoniously and each song was an encompassing performance as opposed to a voice set to music. At times it was hard to hear the lyrics of the song but this seemed to be intentional as the overall sound was improved. The song that stuck out for me was “You Killed This Love” a pounding rhythm flows through this track; it makes the audience feel a sense of kinship with the songwriter who has managed to translate the feeling of heartache into the sound. Each song ends abruptly and although this can be slightly jarring it added a drama to them. Reigns’ music was striking, this is the kind of music you can just sit and listen to, and it’s the type of music I can’t wait to learn the lyrics of.
After a short break the next musicians were up. Flyzig; a very different type of music to Reigns this five piece band were a mixture a few different genres, think Matt Bellamy fronting the Artic Monkeys. Most of their songs were up-tempo and had most of the room tapping or dancing along. The band’s looks was overly casual, each in neutral colours which worked to make them appear synchronised. They were extremely well rehearsed and worked wonderfully together, evenly matched in talent and stage presence. I do have to pick out the drummer Michael Christian, who worked the drum kit like it was a canvas. I found the order of songs a bit disjointed, each song was good but it appeared a bit like different periods in the bands history. There were a few moments I thought I could decipher what genre this band fits into and then they would change my mind with a low tempo emotive track, it was a frenetic set and I’m undecided if this was a good thing. To their credit the fan base for Flyzig was out in force, for an unsigned band they had a large amount of the crowd singing along and cheering when each song was announced. I really enjoyed Flyzig, this is music you can dance along to during a mad moment but also take time to slow down and listen to the evocative lyrics if the mood strikes you.
BBC Music Introducing Essex was part of an ever expanding list of shows and plays that Harlow Playhouse are putting on under the “Pay What You Can” programme. The idea of this is pretty simple, it’s all in the name. This programme is fantastic, it makes theatre and the arts accessible to anybody, simply book your ticket completely free and then decide on the night how much you would like to pay for it. All the shows I have seen under “Pay What You Can” have been outstanding and shows I would happily pay full price for. BBC Music Introducing Essex is running every month and I would highly recommend you book tickets for the next one.