CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Review: Little Scratch, at Hampstead Downstairs

18 November, 2021 — By Lucy Popescu

Eve Ponsonby and Eleanor Henderson. Photo: Robert Day

MIRIAM Battye’s stage adaptation of Rebecca Watson’s arresting debut novel, Little Scratch, published earlier this year, is a palpable hit.

In an attempt to echo thought patterns, the book is presented in overlapping and split prose, some of which has to be read vertically. This makes it a challenging read, but it’s an approach that lends itself well to drama. Wisely, the creative team have elected to use multiple voices rather than produce a one-woman show.

Four performers (Moronke Akinola, Eleanor Henderson, Eve Ponsonby and Ragevan Vasan) stand behind microphones. They articulate a young woman’s interior monologue as she wakes up, goes to work, meets her boyfriend, “my him”, and attends a poetry recital.

The cast playfully adopt elements of radio drama, creating various sound effects with the simple tools to hand – a crisp packet or a glass of water. All the while, though, the woman is troubled by a trauma that has caused her to scratch at her body. We only learn what this is half way through the play.

Directed with brilliant precision by Katie Mitchell, the four actors own the various thoughts that spill from the protagonist’s mind, overlap and coalesce. These involve the minutiae of daily life – going to the loo, travelling by Tube, checking WhatsApp – as well as meditations on the brutal act that occurred in her office.

Watson cites Virginia Woolf and Sarah Kane as her influences and the parallels with their work are clear. She offers a fascinating snapshot of our times from a feminist perspective.

It’s shocking that the protagonist feels unable to take on her abuser. But she reads the stats and recognises that vulnerable women stand little chance against powerful men: “Him, money power/me, an assistant silence,” she observes.

It’s a depressing conclusion in this searing account of one woman’s pain, but the threads of hope and resilience interwoven throughout provide some comfort.

Until December 11
hampsteadtheatre.com

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