Hwaet!, the monologue from Tom Wells, is told from the perspective of Liz (Elizabeth Elvin) – a mother who is nervously awaiting her daughter’s arrival at the surprise party she’s thrown. Liz’s daughter is heading away to university to study archaeology, so Liz is throwing a Viking party to celebrate. But she’s worried that the evening will be a damp squib – Auntie Lynn’s lot haven’t even arrived yet, and the Viking meal of mead and beef is looking decidedly lacklustre.
Elvin really shines in the role, delivering a few laugh-out-loud moments with superb comic timing. These jokes serve as a useful counterbalance to the more sentimental moments and stop Hwaet! from becoming saccharine. Wells’ script covers a lot of ground, and Elvin meets its every need, showing a range of emotion but keeping Liz consistent and grounded throughout. She also imbues the character with a nervous energy as she frantically awaits her daughter’s arrival.
The direction from Gemma Fairlie is understated but sharp. This is a completely blank space, but Elvin’s movement gives it some life, with nothing else except some intermittent shots of her watch (and an important piece of paper later on) to give the space some depth. This is of course helped by the tight script from Wells, as it conjures a believable space for Liz to be waiting in, wearing her endearingly daft Viking costume.
There are moments when the focus or aiming of the monologue feels a little off. It’s clearly addressed to her daughter, but that makes a few expositional lines clang, as Liz explains things her daughter would surely know. There are only a few blips, and for the most part the voice is crystal clear, but these do stand out when the majority of the script is so strong.
It’s noteworthy how much distance this piece keeps from the Staffordshire Hoard that inspired the Hoard: Rediscovered series. This is a small-scale, intimate story, and when it does finally link to the hoard in an overt sense (beyond the general link of archaeology), it’s incredibly evocative and well-earned.
Hwaet! is filled to the brim with emotion and sweetness, but there’s control from all the creative team to ensure that the sentimentality does not overflow and become mawkish. Instead, this is an efficiently told story, that creates vivid characters in a short time, and handles them with skill and care to make something well worth watching. Amongst the trove of Hoard: Rediscovered monologues, Hwaet! is a real treasure.
Hwaet! is streaming online until December 1st, for tickets and more information see the New Vic Theatre website.