Taking her acclaimed play, Superhoe to Brighton Festival next month, as well as working on a ‘top secret’ TV series, Nicôle Lecky is busy. We caught up with her to talk social media breaks and the importance of writing with life experience.
Morning light filters in through the window, marking the beginning of a new week. My telephone rests on top of the previous weekends’ newspapers, with reviews of Ali Smith’s latest novel Spring running into other miscellaneous supplements. The Sport section is where it always is – tucked away at the bottom, barely visible. When Nicôle Lecky answers, her voice is sunny, stretching at the edges like rays. There is some easy laughter while we pass comment on the horrors of daylight savings, specifically the lagging impact incurred from that sacred hour of sleep snatched away a month previously. Her words begin to cloud over at various intervals: “Do you know what? The signal here is so bad.” She says, trying in vain to find a healthy line.
Together we bask in the wake of her acclaimed theatrical debut Superhoe, which premiered as a rehearsed reading at The Yard, before transferring to the Royal Court in February this year. The piece follows the character of Sasha Clayton, a 24-year-old Londoner with aspirations of becoming a singer and rapper. Caught between financial dependency and a traumatic upbringing, Sasha finds herself unable to become self-sufficient. However, when an incident with the police renders her homeless, she happens upon Carly, an Instagram-famous model who coaxes her into high-end sex work.
Lecky describes the narrative as informed by genuine pockets of social media. She was shown a website – much like the one Sasha becomes attached to – where men strive to expose young girls (who pose as models or influencers) as sex workers. Instagram’s ‘Explore Page’, she says, began to seep into every corner of her world. Ultimately, the platform served as the foundation for the production, as well as the primary source for any research that she undertook. Instagram also allowed her to contact women who had fallen victim to such aforementioned traps, where it became clear that the music industry was integral to their stories.
“The best way to enable Sasha to speak the truth was through music,” Lecky declares. She found the medium itself to be treatable, and was easily transposed into the framework of a one-woman show. There seems to have been a surge in recent years involving the merging of theatre and music, which suggests that this craft resonates with audiences today. “That’s become our palette,” she adds, noting how necessary it is for artists now to find new ways of creating work. With the rise of the digital age, the attention spans of spectators has dwindled. The need for constant stimulation is widespread – words are now crammed into spaces of 140 characters, and the duration of televised content is being reduced further and further.
Since making Superhoe, Lecky has realised just how accessible chatrooms are, as well as how easy it would be to fall into a habit of escorting, especially given the financial reward at the other end. “I’m currently on a social media hiatus,” she laughs, having just moved into her third consecutive week offline. Lecky embarks on detoxes such as this regularly, using month-long spells to get back in touch with her mental and physical wellbeing. Clearly, the toxicity that grows from those layers of fiction and reality in our day-to-day environment has become impossible to ignore. “You can lose your own identity,” she says, fretting over the dangers of networking sites. It was for this reason that Lecky hoped to reach out to young girls who emulate the supposedly lavish lifestyles belonging to characters like Sasha and Carly, using Superhoe to reveal the truth behind similarly destructive guises.
While it is a polemic against the online world, Superhoe is also a tale of abuse. Sasha’s experiences are used to explore how this kind of trauma can become something small but substantial – a memory folded up inside, snagging at the edges. Her character is also plagued by anxiety throughout, becoming paralysed by various instances of nausea and intrusive thoughts. It is unlike other narratives of the same subject (where suffering can loom large), but this was a conscious choice. Lecky wanted the play to stay true to common themes found as part of the research process, and empower those who could relate to Sasha’s journey as a result.
It is phenomenal how, in the space between 2018 and today, Lecky has built a solid career from writing and performing. It is a rarity to be able to transcend the curse of the average creative – namely, juggling multiple vocations to pay the bills. She recounts how recently, while in South Kensington with her boyfriend, they happened across the offices at which Lecky had been employed a year earlier, answering the phones. This is the spot in which Superhoe had started coming to life. “I was ducking and diving calls and writing whenever I could,” she chuckles. Now 28, Lecky is an advocate for ‘life experience’, and is wary of prospective artists bending to the unhealthy expectations of the industry. “There was a long time where I wanted to be writing more than I was,” she concedes, “but for whatever reason, I just wasn’t.” For her, thriving is more important than surviving. “Don’t pressure yourself,” she says, advisedly, “you might not have anything to say yet.”
Lecky will be taking Superhoe to the Brighton Festival in late May, and is currently developing the production into a television series. “I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say!” She giggles, when I inquire after her upcoming projects. From the sounds of it, her calendar is jam-packed. As well as authoring a one-hour TV drama (now filming, out this summer), she will also be taking on other pursuits across radio and theatre. “It’s busy, but there are a lot of stories that I think are important.” she concludes, her sentences swimming in and out of focus as she heads to a business meeting.
Superhoe is playing at The Brighton Festival from 19 – 21 May. For more information and tickets, visit the website.