What is being billed as Ella Hickson’s new play; Precious Little Talent, is in fact a reworking of the play written and performed two years prior to its current London debut at the Trafalgar Studios 2. In many ways there is an air of excitement around Hickson who is quickly being named as a writer who is worth noticing, and with her recent Pearson Playwright In Residence at the Lyric Hammersmith it would appear that the industry thinks so too. Yet despite all of this apparent labelling of hot new writing talent, Precious Little Talent doesn’t really ignite the fire that other critics are happily fanning towards Hickson.
The play sees Joey (Olivia Hallinan), a 23-year old graduate who has fled the crashing economy of England to try find a sense of understanding in the big lights of New York. Her estranged father George (Ian Gelder) resides in New York and is battling with early-on-set dementia and the slow but inevitable loss of the words he once cherished as an academic. Then there is Sam (Anthony Welsh), the patriotic American 19-year old who helps George through doing nursing shifts in his spare time, who helplessly falls in love with Joey. Together this trio collide, each trying to hold onto what they believe whilst embracing the change that is being forced upon them in the present and future.
Hickson covers a lot of ground in Precious Little Talent, but never really allows the characters to flourish. This is partly through the topics Hickson attempts to explore. Taking Joey as example we hear her bemoan the lack of jobs after graduating with a First class degree, whilst her mother falls for a Muslim man and begins to wear a head scarf. She’s not spoken to her father for years, and desperately wants to find who she is whilst denouncing the American ‘I have a dream’ way of life. Hickson doesn’t explore the recline in graduate-jobs, nor differing cultural relationships. She hints at the bigger story, but this doesn’t bring depth to the characters, it only makes them more roughly defined. It is a shame, because these flickering moments don’t do the story justice, and I’m inclind to say they are wasted words.
Restrained within 90 minutes, without an interval, James Dacre (Olivier Award-winner for The Mountaintop) directs snapshots of Hickson’s text than allowing for linear playing. This is certainly seen in the interludes of music between scenes by sound designer Emma Laxton. Whilst Laxton’s contributions are brilliantly pieced together, combining music with the chaos of the city, the added affect is more distancing – breaking Precious Little Talent into an episodic structure rather than really letting us embrace the emotion Hickson is trying to convey.
There is of course a feeling of enjoyment from Precious Little Talent, it is not bad but neither does it excite. I can see what Dacre is attempting to create from Hickson’s script, and I can equally see what Hickson is trying to portray, but somehow it doesn’t come together. This is partly through the casting choice of Hallinan as Joey, who doesn’t quite manage to capture the more refined moments in Hickson’s dialogue, instead giving 90 minutes of overplayed and boisterous delivery. It is a shame because Welsh is brilliantly lovable as Sam, capturing a real sense of a character proud of heritage, excited by his youth and excellently witty in his dialogue. Gelder, too, as the frail George is lovingly portrayed, especially in a closing monologue about linguistics and losing the words for even the closet family members, it is heart warming and offers an emotional engagement that Precious Little Talent rather lacks as a whole.
It is obvious that this is not the play that Hickson will be known for, but it does offer a suggestion of where her future work might begin to come to life. I’m not completely convinced that the labeling of hot new writing talent is quite warranted, but I’m not prepared to let Precious Little Talent cloud my opinions of Hickson’s other work. In fact, I look forward to seeing the work that comes out of her residence at the Lyric Hammersmith, and with a year ahead working with Headlong Theatre, a show at HighTide Festival and Latitude Festival, Hickon is clearly going from strength to strength.
Precious Little Talent is playing at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until 30th April. For information and tickets see the official website here.