Created by Max Gill and Ellie Keel, Heretic Productions presents Heretic Voices, a nationwide competition in search of new writing in monologue form. Announced during the summer of 2017, 1136 pieces were submitted and studied by a panel of industry professionals, namely Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington, award-winning playwright Lolita Chakrabarti, BAFTA Award-winning actor Monica Dolan and literary agent Mel Kenyon. Only three applicants have been given the opportunity to have their work staged as a collection at the Arcola Theatre: A Woman Caught Unaware by Annie Fox, Dean McBride by Sonya Hale and A Hundred Words for Snow by Tatty Hennessey.
Designed by Laura Ann Price, a white diamond burns brightly against the dark paint of the stage floor. An ivory plinth sits proudly at its highest point and a black file is propped against it. A Woman Caught Unaware launches the evening into a fevered analysis of the culture of body shaming and Mary, played by Amanda Boxer, does not suffer fools gladly. A professor of Art History in her late sixties, she is hilariously unsympathetic and highly allergic to the histrionics of her students. However, when a nude photograph of herself goes viral, Mary inadvertently becomes the object of cyber-bullying. Boxer is instantly engaging, wading knee-deep in millennial crises and sinking fast into a world governed by technology. In an empowering celebration of the respect that she has gained in place of what youth she may have lost, her bully and her body are drowned in a sea of aged rose petals, an event that changes the meaning of the word ‘victim’ forever.
Set on a council estate in Croydon, Dean McBride chases trauma with trauma. Dean, played by Ted Reilly, uses the white floor as a canvas for his collection of red and blue chalks. His story is mapped beneath his feet – a family unit scribbled out in haste, a note from his absent mother, a telephone number, and a promise. Dean speaks in a torrent of urban slang, colloquialisms burning the edges of a young life filled with loss. “Eagles!” he cheers wildly, when Crystal Palace score a goal, arms stretched wide as if to fly through the roof over his head. Indeed, an element of flight is present throughout, but at times the performance begins to flap indecisively. At 45 minutes in length, it is the longest of the three monologues and while Reilly works hard to maintain his pace he was still on book for the latter part of his performance, which unfortunately, impedes his delivery.
Hennessey’s A Hundred Words for Snow is extraordinary. Played by Lauren Samuels, Rory (short for Aurora) has just lost her father in a car accident. As a geography teacher, he ensured that her childhood was laced with exploration and the histories of famous men and women who discovered the Arctic Circle. Grieving, she decides to make the journey to the North Pole to scatter his ashes, entirely on her own. Samuels is an outstanding performer, her every word and movement captivating. Bright lights hide at sudden turns that add a sense of risk to her expedition and she melts into surrounding characters with ease. The use of humour is electric, sparking a relationship with this brave girl who shares some of her first and last experiences with an audience who are reluctant to bid her goodbye.
Heretic Voices is an inspiring event. Our three female writers have marked change vividly and they are a poetic assembly indeed.
Heretic Voices is playing at the Arcola Theatre until Jan 20 2018.
Photo: Robert Workman