If you are looking for a remarkable piece of unusual drama then the Hampstead Theatre’s production of little scratch is now being presented by New Diorama in their perfectly-suited theatre. It’s bold and brave to the point of stirring incredulity that something so powerful can be created from such stark simplicity. The secret is in the complexity of the text and its delivery.
Breathtakingly and stunningly rewarding
The blackened stage has two white tables set apart from each other. On them are collections of items which will be incorporated into the performance as a source of sound effects and often some amusement. A scrubbing brush is scratched, a packet of crisps is opened and noisily crunched, cereals in a bowl are munched and water is gargled and gurgled as teeth are cleaned and it’s even drunk.
Four microphone stand across the front of the stage as though set up for a backing group in a recording studio. Four actors emerge from the wings dressed in a mix of greys and blacks and take up their positions behind the mics where they stand for the hundred minute run. A light shines down from above each of them, courtesy of lighting designer Bethany Gupwell, for they are the ensemble of leads who will take us through the narrative. The star of the of the show is the unseen woman to whom all of their words relate, leaving us free to create our own image of her. There is also another powerful presence in the form of an evocative soundscape devised by Melanie Wilson that plays throughout.
If you imagine all the things that might go through your head during the course of a day then you will have a feel for this play. Think of the conversations you have with your self; the myriad observations you make on people who pass by you; the bewilderment you experience when you look at what someone is doing; the memories you conjure up; the reminders you give yourself; the plans you make; the reflections on mundane activities; the thoughts about family, friends and loved ones and maybe a recent tragedy you’ve experienced the memory of which will not go away. Add to this the context of a self-harming woman who contemplates telling her boyfriend that she has been raped by the boss who is still present at work. Imagine this stream of consciousness vocalised in multiple short sentences, words and sounds as though put together as musical score for a quartet, with each voice precisely cued, sometimes solo but also overlapping with the other voices in a chorus, at times in unison or harmony but very often discordantly interrupting each other.
Katie Mitchell has been meticulous in crafting the complex text written by Miriam Battye, which was adapted from Rebecca Watson’s book. Timing the entrance of each actor’s voice with such precision creates an effect akin to a musical work. Apart from learning this minefield of language the cast of Eleanor Henderson, Eve Ponsonby, Rebekah Murrell, Ragevan Vasan rise to the enormous challenge of imbuing it with a string of emotions that capture the changing moods and circumstances of the twenty-four hour period over which it is set. It’s a remarkable feat.
The play is a work like no other, that places demands on those seeing it to remain focussed and attentive; to listen, listen, listen. To do so is breathtakingly and stunningly rewarding.