Opening on a foldable bed, topped with the barest of mattresses, Jessie (Sarah Carton) adorned in greyness, lays impatiently before beginning to recount her love for Callum – the reason she has ended up inside this prison cell. HATCH is a piece of gig-theatre interlaced with spoken word centring around her unyielding attachment without the capacity for resolution. Stuck seemingly indefinitely in the cell along with her last moments of Callum; a failed drugs drop off on his behalf for which she took the fall.
As soon as the microphone touches her lips it refuses to move. Punctuating the 45-minute work are 6 songs, delivered in fragile notes carried by Carton’s smooth tone. Unafraid to be playful with her voice, emotion bubbles to the surface in moments of vocal release before simmering back down to soft control.
Driven by Carton’s commanding stage presence, every word is intimately personal, shrouded in her explosive energy. Despite this, the vulnerability is always fleeting, best caught in the moments that she runs the microphone across her lips, sucks her thumb or speaks with her breath. There is also something unbelievable about how neat and made-up her presentation is given the circumstance.
In the small space of Camden People’s Theatre, Jessie’s amplified voice is unrelenting. It appears unnecessary to perform the entire piece through speakers, however, around the mid-point, the question strikes me whether she is holding the audience hostage within the sound to mimic her own position. Maybe.
Musically monotonous, the instrumentals follow a pattern of atmospheric synths looped over steady kicks with little variation beyond key. Certainly, the lovesick themes, only briefly diverged from, grow tiresome. Perhaps this is intentional, to create a sense of repetitive endlessness in line with Jessie’s experience. Unclear.
Suffering from a lack of dramaturgical cohesion, the inconsistent lighting fails to guide the mood created through music constructed on Carton’s looping station at the front of the stage. Intermittently lighting the hatch above her head through which guards observe her is a potentially powerful moment interrupted by the pace of the piece, which frustratingly doesn’t allow stillness or silence to linger. As a result, the outside world, though vividly described, does not feel solid.
It is difficult to ascertain how much of what is on stage is accidental or deliberate, and something that needs to be fleshed out to pull the work together. There is an overall sense almost implying that the performance takes place inside Jessie’s head as means to process her pain and occupy the vastness of time she shares her cell with. Yet the answer remains uncertain.
HATCH played at Camden People’s Theatre until 16 November. For more information and tickets, click here.