little scratch (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs)

Posted: November 13, 2021 in Theatre
Photo: Robert Day

Writer: Rebecca Watson

Adaptor: Miriam Battye

Director: Katie Mitchell

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

On the face of it, Rebecca Watson’s extraordinary modern novel little scratch would seem impossible to dramatise. Written in short sentences, often random, often disconnected, it expresses the thoughts of a troubled young woman as she ploughs through a single, unremarkable working day. She commutes to her office, executes her mundane tasks, masks her internal pain and itches while remaining determined never to scratch.

Perhaps the novel could have been made to work as a monologue, but adaptor Miriam Battye and director Katie Mitchell do not look for easy options. Their play is performed by four superb actors, not bringing to life other characters in the unnamed woman’s story, but illustrating the conflicts and confusions inside her mind. This bold and original technique works to stunning effect.

Mitchell preempts the criticism that this is nothing more than a radio play by making it seem as if we are watching the recording of a radio play. Three women (Morónké Akinolá, Eleanor Henderson and Eve Ponsonby) and one man (Ragevan Vasan) appear statuesque behind standing microphones on a semi-lit stage throughout the production’s 95 minutes. They improvise sound effects and take turns to articulate the woman’s thoughts. Curiously, they become a non-singing choral quartet, the varying timbres of their voices, the precise rhythms and timing of their speech collectively representing a mind in turmoil.

The play dwells on the minutiae of daily life – waking up, eating breakfast, performing bodily functions, facing social media and so on – before finding the epicentre of the woman’s trauma. She is a rape victim. She sets herself the challenge of carrying on as if nothing had happened, working in the office where the assault had taken place, continuing her happy relationship with her boyfriend, but she is unable to bring herself to tell anyone what had happened. Crucially, the adaptor and director never allow the play to feel as if it is a cathartic outpouring; everything remains internalised as the woman searches for her own ways to come to terms with events and to begin the healing process.

Unflinching in its approach, sometimes unavoidably shocking and sickeningly topical, Watson’s book has been transformed into a uniquely disturbing theatre experience.

Performance date: 12 November 2021

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