Katherine Chandler, Sherman Theatre’s playwright in residence presents the premiere of her newest play ‘Lose Yourself’. On the surface a look at hedonism, and a contemporary need to disappear into oblivion however that comes. More than that a look at celebrity, on a minor and major scale, and associated power. Most importantly it’s a look at sexual power. All of which with devastating effect.
Three characters tell the story of a night out. Yaz (Gabrielle Creevy) had a terrible job interview and is looking for some escape. Josh (Tim Preston) is a young footballer laid up by injury and fearing for his future and dragged along by Nate (Aaron Anthony) a footballer at the end of his career and squeezing every last bit of the ‘perks’ of the job that he can. Directed by Patricia Logue it’s a fast paced, often funny, often sexy piece that packs a devastating punch- and challenges an audience to reflect on some hard truths.
All three actors give strong captivating performances. Tim Preston gives and unassuming performance that captures the conflict in Josh. He’s a young man desperate for what the world of football can offer him. In him Preston plays well the conflict- he’s desperate to do right by his Mum, to use football to elevate them out of their lives. He’s also desperate to do right by his childhood sweetheart and put right his wrongs. Preston plays the push and pull of this with an understated intelligence. Aaron Anthony’s Nate offers the contrast to Josh. The unapologetic ‘lad’ he is big and brash but utterly believable. Delivered with a dry wit and charm Anthony is an engaging performer who pulls an audience on side with Nate despite reservations they might have. And underneath the ‘lad’ there are also glimpses of the deeper elements of Nate’s personality which make for an intelligent performance from Anthony. Alongside these two Gabrielle Creevy brings an energy to Yaz that makes her impossible to ignore and impossible not to warm to. Playing all her rough edges with a charm that endears she is funny but with a sweet demeanour. There’s an openness to Creevy’s portrayal that makes for a heart-stabbingly honest performance.
Carla Goodman’s design- all cubes and shiny surfaces- creates the feeling of ‘the club’ from the outset grounding the play in that location and moment subconsciously. The set made up of a series of black cubes becomes everywhere and nowhere. And serves the narrative in that it feels often like floating inside the character’s heads. The idea of these conversations in the ‘abstract’ not quite rooted to reality is served by the design. Incorporated into this Sound Design by Sam Jones and lighting by Andy Pike are integral to creating this look and feel and both transform the space utterly.
Chandler follows Yaz, Josh and Nate through one day- one random Thursday. From the early part of the day where little is going right for Josh and Yaz, and as ever everything seems to go right for Nate. To preparing for a night out- one where for various reasons they are all seeking to get a little ‘lost’. Nate and Josh are local, minor celebrities. While Yaz feels like a nobody- rejected from a job interview she comments on there’s not even a ‘career’ for her, just ‘a job’. And while her friend Samantha is set on charming the local celebrities, in the form of the football team, Yaz has a more fairy-tale like escape plan, in the form of her ‘Mr Snow’ the man she keeps seeing from afar. Josh meanwhile is struggling with an injury that could end his career before it starts, and a lost love he thinks he’s destroyed. And the morality of whether he tries to become more like Nate- his self-appointed mentor. And Nate on this Thursday is doing what he does it seems every week. Drinking and women. And that it’s all so normal to Nate is what ends up being so utterly dangerous about his character, and is Chandler’s incredibly effective comment on sexual politics, sexual power and the world we live in.
Written in interlocking monologues, a style which has in recent years become almost peculiarly ‘Welsh’ approach to writing, for this story it’s incredibly effective. It’s a story about subjective experience after all. Moreover, it’s a fragmented story which an audience needs to do the work to piece together- and that is to Chandler’s credit. There are no easy answers in this story and the writing serves this. And the writing is incredibly naturalistic, capturing the unique speech patterns and personalities of each character to convey both them and the narrative in what feels like an effortless approach but is deceptively complex. Chandler manages to deliver the complexities, relationships and nuances of not only the three characters on stage, but their extended network of relationships and encounters through these monologues. And it’s delightfully and engagingly delivered- each of them feeling like listening to a friend retelling a story in detail, and making the tales feel incredibly intimate, an element that serves a story that centres so much around sexual desire and sexual power.
The monologues work effectively- and as a conversation- to the point you can forget that none of the characters are fully interacting. Some clever direction from Logue pulls this together. Despite never speaking directly to each other, she pulls each character into the other’s orbit, we see them looking, interacting through movement. Even when in separate places, all three remain on stage for almost the entire piece, giving a sense of tying together their stories and worlds.
Logue handles the material with an unapologetic but deft direction. She approaches the characters, and the situations with an unflinching confrontation- but not without sympathy and humanity within the characters. It’s a balanced direction, one which offers up the various characters without directing or pushing an audience in any one direction- she lets Chandler’s words, and the actor’s performance lead the way. At the same time the direction is slick- the piece looks beautiful and moves with a certain musicality from scene to scene. It’s as creative as the writing, finding new ways to communicate ideas and commentary through movement and music in the same way Chandler crafts and bends words to create a unique voice to her story.
One of the writing highlights is the use of instant messaging. In a world that’s increasingly created by message rather than speech playwrights often struggle to capture this element of the modern world. Chandler captures this beautifully with characters declaring ‘Text; the wife’ ‘What’s App; Nate’ and relaying the message. It’s punchy, fast and often funny. The actors capturing the tone of both their receipt of it and the person messaging perfectly. It’s an elegant solution to a very modern playwrighting problem.
Despite the innovative approach to direction, and at times to writing style, the piece never feels over-produced, or over-directed as Logue balances creation of a piece that looks fantastic with the needs and the delivery of the writing. And it is with that intelligence that she allows everything else to fall away in the final scene and leaves everything to Creevy and Chandler to deliver through words and performance the emotional punctuation of the piece.
And the punctuation to the piece is a powerful one. Chandler intelligently explores the dynamics of sexual power through the characters. And while the conclusion might not be unexpected, it is because of that that it is so powerful. There is a slow dawning realisation that this is where things have been heading all along. And it is a complex and challenging dynamic for the audience- how to resolve the fact you have laughed at- and with these characters, you have been endeared to them. But then to witness what they do, to reconcile them as the human, relatable characters of the past 60 minutes or so. That is a direct, important challenge to how we consider sexual dynamics and sexual power.
While the lead up may be deliberately ambiguous to create these challenging questions, the ending is not. And as devastating in some ways as it is, the play leaves with a sense of a rallying cry. The final moments of Yaz’s last monologue are ones that will leave every woman feeling an utterly visceral connection to what she goes through. It’s at once complex and utterly black and white. And one which every man should be paying close attention to.
Lose Yourself is showing at the Sherman Theatre 10 – 25 May.
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