Friday, 19 November 2021

REVIEW: Little Scratch at The Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Directed by Katie Mitchell, arguably one of Britain’s most important directors of theatre and opera, an auteur who makes beautiful work, she challenges conventional creative processes and always pushes the form forward. During a lively conversation in May of this year, with Kyoto Prize winner, director of Theatre du Soleil, Ariane Mnouchkine, Mitchell spoke passionately about feminism, her work with young people and her commitment to developing a sustainable model for making and touring theatre. With this in mind she directs Little Scratch, bold, provocative, lyrical and deeply moving, it is a masterpiece of our time. 

Released in 2020, Little Scratch, Rebecca Watson’s debut novel a successful experiment in form, shortlisted for both the Goldsmiths and Desmond Elliot Prize this year, reads like a musical score. It charts a day in the life of an unnamed woman who is in the grips of trauma, as she deals with the aftermath of a sexual assault. Dissonant, contrapuntal and fractured are her thoughts and seemingly impossible to stage. However, writer Miriam Battle adapts this stream of consciousness into an intoxicating and riveting stage play, which under Mitchell’s direction, is a stunning piece of live theatre. 

Four actors – Morónkẹ́ Akinọlá, Eleanor Henderson, Eve Ponsonby and Ragevan Vasan, standing behind mics and under simple house lights, in black utility wear, are the ensemble, the orchestra of her inner voices. Without a conductor, these actors each like nerve endings in the brain, supply the scattergun of thoughts, as they look out into the audience, responding to the life outside. It’s a cacophony of criticism, self-soothing, hilarious responses to the minor irritations of life and guest appearances from her Mother. Also making audio appearances are her boyfriend's texts, awkward moments with office colleagues in the loo and other transitory places and most painfully her reasoning with her memories of the assault. 

Melanie Wilson’s soundscape, like an audio kaleidoscope, accompanies the thoughts (the actors), as we are taken through the various landscapes of her day. Through the soundscape, we see her environment and it replaces any set. The only objects on the stage with the actors are a handful of props with which to create foley, adding a ‘liveness’ to our experience. This is stripped down, eco-friendly, sustainable theatre. Tick. 

We hear her reason and bargain as she battles with her compulsion to scratch the surface of her skin, a vein (pardon the pun) attempt at finding the relief she desperately needs. Telling this story by turning the thoughts inside out and placing the unnerving disquiet of her mind onto the stage, gives integrity to the subject matter and empathy into the hearts of the audience. It is an immersive and experiential testament to a woman living in a patriotic world and it is a poetic tale of the divided mind and PTSD bought about by trauma. 

Congratulations Hampstead Theatre on this programming. Once again, delighted to have Roxanna Silbert at the helm.

Review by Mandy Gordon

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Unreserved Seating | Price of Ticket: Full Price £25, Students £10, Under ’30s £10

Now sold out, I urge you to sit in the bar and wait for a return. This show is not to be missed.
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