“Lydia Rynne’s script is witty and well-paced, and it’s worth a watch”
Regardless of what you’ve come to see, The Vaults, with its old brick tunnel walls and stark furnishings, is always an exciting venue. Upon entering, we’re given a pair of earplugs, the reason for which becomes apparent when we see the stage covered with various drum kits. And, right on time, we are alerted to the play’s beginning with a chaotic drum crash.
Jess is nearly thirty, living in a basement flat; she has a boyfriend with whom she has sex once a month and a job that at best she finds boring, and at worst deeply despises. On discovering she is pregnant she embarks on an early life-crisis, or as the theatre’s synopsis calls it, a late coming-of-age journey, as she tries to decide if she actually wants this baby or if she is simply giving in to society’s futurist regenerative pressures.
The play consists of an hour-long monologue, and Alice Pitt-Carter does well to keep the audience engaged, making good use of the space, and allowing for peaks and troughs of energy in her delivery. The Vault Theatre’s Cavern sits directly under a train line and throughout the play the trains beat overhead to great effect, a sporadic but weighty heart-beat rhythm lending a seemingly purposeful baseline to the soundtrack. Owing to the venue’s unusual combination of echoing acoustics and an intimate space, Kay Michael might have directed Pitt-Carter to create a more confessional performance. But she acts in much the same way you might in a larger, more conventional auditorium. She is not over-dramatic, but when the audience is so close to the performer it seems unnecessary to enunciate and facially contort with such clarity.
Caley Powell’s production is simple but effective: Sally Somerville-Woodiwis’ stripped-back set design consists of a drum kit, more scattered drums, and walls covered with teenage bedroom-style poster collages. The sound design is equally bare-bones – Pitt-Carter uses the drums and a solitary microphone to punctuate certain lines, lend an element of tension or, as you would imagine with a self-professed amateur on a drum-kit, to create a feeling of stress and havoc. Martha Godfrey’s lighting generally either floods the stage and part of the audience, or spotlights in moments of high tension. All this is to great effect – it’s a small venue and the audience is on level with the staging so an overly sophisticated production would be too distracting.
A one-woman play about the pressures of society in which the protagonist decides, with zero musical experience, to be a drummer in a punk band, is a perfect recipe for disaster, and to its credit, it is not disastrous. It is, however, by no means ground-breaking either. The current conversation regarding abortion isn’t quite so fraught and the story somehow doesn’t seem realistic in the way it might have ten years ago. Nonetheless, Lydia Rynne’s script is witty and well-paced, and it’s worth a watch.
“This is a one woman show, and quite honestly I can’t see anyone better for the job of carrying it than Alice Pitt-Carter”
It’s always an interesting sign when you’re handed a pair of earplugs when entering a theatre, with the looming promise of “some loud moments”. This was a very sensible idea for a show with a very large drum kit in a very small and isolated space, although I personally couldn’t work out how to only block out the drumming without losing the words that followed and preceded it.
In general, I absolutely loved Lydia Rynne’s debut creation Hear Me Howl. It’s depressingly rare to come across a show that portrays the experience of being a young woman with such minute accuracy. There was something delightfully conspiratorial about taking the moments experienced by virtually all young women in variations of her position: the friends who are also competitors or the uncertainty about when you can reasonably count yourself as an adult, and then talking about them, directly, with an audience also made up primarily of young women.
However, I was left with a sense that this play got caught up in something of a false dichotomy. It’s treated as self evident that the only two options on offer are either a totally staid life involving a baby and a relationship and a job, or touring the country with a band called Finrot. This felt a little forced; surely a middle ground can and does exist between these two, in which personal fulfillment can exist without dropping everything that makes it easier to live and function in society?
The journey that our protagonist goes on – from a not unsuccessful young professional with a flat and a boyfriend that she’s “at least half in love with” to the same girl, now touring the country’s seediest bars with the post punk group she accidentally joined – feels far more reasonable when she tells it. A few incidents of being in the right (or wrong) place and time with the right (or wrong) people, and just about anything can happen.
This is a one woman show, and quite honestly I can’t see anyone better for the job of carrying it than Alice Pitt-Carter. A stage devoid of other people is a lonely place to be, and the powers of storytelling and audience connection that it require are formidable, but she made it seem so easy. Between her space buns, dead albatross t-shirt and slightly hysterical humour, it was genuinely easy to forget that this was a play, written by one woman and performed by another. It felt much closer to a friend telling us what a ridiculous few months she’s had.
What I really loved is that this is essentially, a play about abortion. But it proved that it’s possible to talk about abortion without only talking about grief and pain and fear. The hope and self responsibility are just as important. Here, the abortion is more of an act of reclaiming the self from layers of interpersonal and social pressure. These undercurrents of trying to recover yourself from what everyone else expects you to be run deep in this play, adding up to something seriously impressive.