Kitty Ball’s, Northern Saint, is a warming yet alarming story of the effect one’s voice can have on social. For good and, sadly, for the worst. Kitty Ball’s anecdotal monologue performed by Saba Nikoufekr shows how when your authentic self is shared on the internet, it will affect every conversation, night out and walk through the park in your everyday life. With witty reflection of Joan of Arc, Nikoufekr’s character seems fearless, perhaps revolutionary. But we are reminded that behind every phone screen there is just a person, and behind Nikoufekr’s movement fuelled with Northern heritage, there is just her own voice trying to battle the world’s noise.
Possibly the most innovative aspect of the performance is Ball’s use of the communal audience WhatsApp Group, which I must admit, I was torn by. As someone who has been trained to switch their phone off as my bum hits the theatre seats, to use the phone as a medium of extra expression for the onstage action was interesting to experience. Throughout the performance, Nikoufekr will melancholically peer down at her phone to post a photo, text or question to the group. As someone not wanting to be drawn from her fantastic stage presence, this is sometimes rather distracting and confusing. Nevertheless, by putting us right in the centre of that social media space, you could say it was an immersive performance into the environment of the online, and following exactly what Nikoufekr was experiencing at the time.
A one woman shows is no easy task, and Nikoufekr commands the stage with a delicate realness and I feel connected with her audience. Fortunately, The Pleasance is a gorgeously intimate space, which allows Nikoufekr to speak to us as friends. However, I would’ve liked for this friendly gaze to have been consistent throughout, instead of performing to an upper circle that was not there.
There were occasional lighting and sound changes, that are effective in dicing up the piece into pivotal moments. However, these effects are almost washed over by the chatty nature of the larger scenes, where we can easily get lost in Nikoufekr informal anecdotes. So, when the climax of the story unfolds, and Nikoufekr’s level of risk is at an ultimate high, I feel shocked and saddened, but also awash with reality. We have been talking to an ordinary young lady throughout the performance and yet the growth of social celebrity can cause a life-threatening impact on someone so seemingly normal.
Northern Saint’s heart lies within the strong Northern voice that is often overruled by the privileged white Londoner. But I also think it is more than that. It explores the capabilities and consequences of social media, and the emotional trauma this can give to a young woman. Ball speaks for women as much as she speaks for her region. Ball’s piece gives a glance at the viral perspective of the last year, and how the mix of support and chaos that we have watched on our phone screens all stems from a much more authentic reality.
Northern Saint played at The Pleasance Theatre on 1 June 2021. For more information and tickets, see VIA Event Search | Pleasance Theatre Trust.