On the back wall of the theatre are a mass of jumbled fairy lights. Like the lives of people in shared spaces, they are messily, inseparably tangled.

Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow present a series of duos struggling with limited living conditions. An uptight landlady and an edgy lodger who talk at rather than to each other. Two perfectly presented lesbians whose facade cracks as they repeat the words of a scene with a different tone. A single girl, finally with a space of her own, who can’t sleep because of the urban noise.

The comedy goes some way to displaying the pressures of living with another, but the characters aren’t quite full, funny or clever enough to shatter stereotypes or produce belly laughs. By displaying straightforward stereotypes of millennials, Theatre with Legs do little to transcend those typical narratives.

The sketches don’t push hard enough at Murrain and Bairstow’s frustrations. The domestics simmer but rarely boil. Moments of song present potential for more original work, but the scenes aren’t given enough space to build. The devised scenes are neither cohesive nor absurdly scrambled enough to have an identity, resulting in a tangle much like the mass of fairy lights.

The addition of microphones, a sprinkling of glitter and nakedness demonstrate attempts at crossing into more innovative ground, but the half-hearted aesthetic experiments are more like a deposit than a solid month’s rent.

Original: Fest

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Siân Rowland’s three-hander boldly tries to unpick complex modern situations, but falls short, leaving underdeveloped characters struggling with subjects too big for them to carry.

From the tip of the pencil to the little lies told, everything in Gazing at a Distant Star is clean and white. Anonymous. Each of the characters is dealing with loss, of another and of their own identity. Arun (a gentle Harpal Hayer) blends into his cold-calling job, using the name Adam so as not to put people off by sounding too “ethnic”. Anna (an amicable Serin Ibrahim) reminisces about her sister’s potentially abusive partner. Karen (a broken Victoria Porter) sends a message to her missing son as she rides waves of guilt.

The play asks where responsibility lies, and who is to be blamed. What should they have done? Shouldn’t they have seen the signs? Couldn’t they have changed the end of these stories?

The exploration of these big questions lacks nuance. The meet-cutes are too easy, plot changes are dolloped heavily, and the twist that drives the second half of the play is easily guessed early on.

Rowland’s ideas are ambitious and her writing touches on delicate subjects worthy of discussion. The specific situation of Karen’s character—the mother of an attacker—is one unseen on most stages and increasingly relevant to our modern world, but the restricted form of the monologue Rowland provides her with limits her character to that of a victim. Combined with the other two stories, this script doesn’t carry enough weight to make an impact.

Original: Fest

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Jamie MacDowell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Thum’s voice is a symphony orchestra. With a bass low enough to shake the seats and a falsetto high enough that glass breaking is not unimaginable, his beatboxing releases a kaleidoscopic sound. His limbs move as he beatboxes, as if the sounds are tied in with muscle memory.

Singer-songwriter Jamie MacDowell plays on the audience’s awe of Thum. “Some of the show will be me,” he says with dry wit. And MacDowell does shine too, his chilled guitar and clean vocals making the music less about showing off, and more about constructing a story.

Demonstrating their loop pedal and sampling the audience’s cheers, this talented Australian duo guide us around their mixing desk. Finding common ground in 90s R&B, their different styles – Thum is more East Coast rap while MacDowell’s rhythmic sound lends itself to campfire pop-acoustic – blend beautifully.

In this hour-long show the remarkable pair perform a mixture of original songs and classic mash-ups. Both take turns leading with personal pieces, their solos more delicate than their duets.Thum dedicates a remix of Bill Withers’ ‘Grandma’s Hands’ to his own grandma, while MacDowell performs a beautiful solo for a friend struggling with coming out, referencing the current politics of hostility back home.

The Australian duo aren’t precious over their set or their skills. “It’s totally fine if you wanna film it, just don’t do anything weird with it,” Thum laughs. The pair joke, ad lib piss-takes and stop to start over when they make mistakes. A little bit of falling, a lot of getting up.

Event: EdFringe

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Delicately woven together, the stories of Annie (Charlie Sellers) and Sophie (Maureen Lennon) unravel like a salty lullaby. With their melancholic monologues underscored by live folk music—played by Mortiboy who sits centre stage, watching the action unfold—Hull-based company Bellow Theatre have created a story to tell in hushed tones round a campfire.

Study, work, marriage, babies. Annie and Sophie are desperate for more than the ordinary. As they both catch a current they can’t turn back on, the play reveals the pressures and expectations on young women.

Theirs are the stories of cruel men and crap jobs. Annie, thrown into a life she’s not ready for, tries to regain control through slight acts of rebellion and slow-burning self-destruction. Sophie, trapped by a possessive husband, resorts to other people’s stories. She tells bedtime tales in order to understand her own, recounting Arabian Nights with its myths of honour, horror and possession. When she dives into her own story, Sophie makes it clear the tales of girls trapped by kings don’t only belong in fairytales.

Everything in the production is approached with care. The direction is subtle, the drama creeping through in words rather than actions. At times it begs for a harder edge. Their voices are gentle as they build up the courage to speak out, with Mortiboy’s gentle strumming dappling below their words, never quite allowing the intensity to land. This dark, delicate production reminds us there is still a chance to change the end of every story. Watching it feels like being wrapped in a warm towel after jumping into the cold sea.

Original: Fest

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The only redeeming feature of this play is the strength of Lucy Roslyn’s legs. Keeping the pose of chimpanzee Goody for an hour, Roslyn bounces and clambers around the stage, doing all she can to make the audience laugh as they consider escaping their own cage of the theatre.

Jesse Rutherford struggles more with his role of Goody’s abusive owner Frances. With slack body language and a lack of variation in his voice, his impressions are tricky to tell apart, and neither humour nor dominance flows easily from him. Frances’s authority is never realised, creating a power dynamic that has no space to play in. He is an insecure owner who turns to violence every time he can’t control Goody, but the relationship between them is not strong enough to make us care.

Where the play really suffers is the logic of its language. At first Goody communicates through sign language. Sporadically, she speaks aloud, either to Frances or to announce subtext, clumsily thrown into the script like dung at an annoying zookeeper. Frances sometimes hears and sometimes doesn’t. It sometimes matters and sometimes doesn’t. The script falters and drags. The logical thread is dropped so many times I think it must have got tangled in Goody’s cage, and no one bothers to unpick it.

As Frances and Goody half-heartedly search for comfort in the damaged love of the other, this play is essentially a weakly-told story of a lonely man gaslighting a chimpanzee.

Original: Fest

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Tattered dolls and cuddly toys are scattered around the room, inanimate until they grab the hungry attention of double act Mireille and Mathieu. Performing in a mixture of English, French and garbled nonsense, these riotous performers are just big kids.

Their attention spins from one toy to the next, inventing stories that rip the objects from their original context. Babies box; Barbie and Ken get mixed up in a futuristic, Biblical fable; and mischievous rabbits play Knock-Down-Ginger.

Aside from a misplaced phallic joke, the childish delight the pair instill ripples across the audience. The speed with which they change story, power structure and character keeps the energy high throughout.

Mireille and Mathieu don’t hide their bodies like many puppeteers. They are as flexible, malleable and prone to manipulation as the toys they control.

The pair race to catch up with each other and make us laugh even more. Mireille turns the ironing board into a horse—entirely believably—until Mathieu gets distracted by a bin lid and the horse is discarded, its former use redundant. They communicate through their puppetry rather than directly in coversation, their domestics turning into childish tiffs. The duo aren’t afraid to be brutal with each other either, thumping and rolling their way across the stage.

Top-notch tech isn’t needed to transport the audience in Arm, only a leap of imagination. At the end of this unruly performance, it seems appropriate that the toys get a round of applause too.

Original: Fest

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A telecare system is a white plastic phone with a big red button. Often perched at the end of a bed or the arm of a chair, the phone can immediately connect someone in an emergency with a member of staff from a care team. The phones are designed to provide independence to older adults but for many, conversations on these telecare systems are their only point of contact with the outside world. “My gran used to ring them all the time,” says Louise Coulthard, “even though you’re only supposed to use it if you fall over or burn yourself. She just pressed it and rang for a chat.”

Edinburgh in August is frantic. Everyone is hungry, exhausted, and the streets almost sway with the weight of hungover students cloaked in rain and sweat, the shower in their too-full apartment having broken that morning. This hive of activity, so busy you almost get sick of pushing through bodies on the Mile, feels far removed from the image of someone sitting in solitude at home, pressing the emergency button of their phone just so that they can hear a friendly voice.

It often seems that the Fringe tends to have a focus on the young, with uproarious ideas celebrated and desperation oozing from keen, clever young things. So how do the two worlds merge? How does a piece that is so delicate, quiet and gentle, focusing on the fragility of older adults, navigate its way through the chaotic tangle of the Edinburgh Fringe?

This year, Theatre Ad Infinitum are bringing back their 2011 hit, Translunar Paradise, [Exeunt review here] a heartbreaking performance exploring an older man’s struggle to recover from his wife’s death. And numerous other shows are tackling the subject of old age at this year’s Festival, including three new plays: The GardenerDark Matter and Cockamamy. Each of these three explores a unique area of the ageing process, using different techniques to draw out the nuances of a less independent life.

In Dark Matter, Vertebra Theatre Company harness puppetry, visual imagery and microcinema to reconstruct meaning for retired astrophysicist Alfie. In Cockamamy, Coulthard uses her experience of caring for her grandma to create a bittersweet tale of love and loss. Cumbernauld Theatre’s The Gardener focuses on amateur gardener Fred, who has recently moved into a home after being unable to cope on his own following the death of his wife. Each play orbits around the feeling of isolation. Whether suffering from dementia or simply the baggage of old age, when it comes to the later stage of life The Gardener’s director Tony Cownie says, even if you are “surrounded by people who are good to you and kind to you, what you’ve lost is in the past. It is still a lonely experience.

As age decays body and mind, it becomes a race against time. In Dark Matter, director and co-writer Mayra Stergiou says, time is “a dictator and a companion”, doggedly pushing us through Alfie’s life to find what’s left of him. Time is not such a burden on The Gardener’s Frank. He is able to use his past, his skills and the things he loves. Although on medication, he is in much better health than the protagonists of our two other plays, both physically and mentally. Being in a better mental state allows him to use his past to his favour. A former teacher, he persuades the care staff to allow him to give a series of lectures on horticulture, the first of which we are invited to. “It’s nice to see him use the skills he used in his professional life in this environment,” Cownie says.

For Coulthard, time plays a different role. “Because gran kind of couldn’t really remember much of her past and wasn’t concerned for the future, it was always so present. Everything was just quite alive.” Coulthard’s play is heavily influenced by her own experience of caring for her grandmother. Just from talking to her on the phone, you can tell how much this piece means to her. Though her grandma was never that into theatre, living in the countryside where there weren’t a lot of touring shows, she was intrigued by Coulthard’s life as an actress. It will no doubt be an emotional and exhausting Fringe, but Coulthard is adamant that it is important to remember the funny moments too. “We did laugh a lot. Those moments of light get you through as a carer.” As suggested by the title, Cockamamy highlights the bemusing and hilarious situations dementia can lead to, drawing together the oppositions of pain and laughter.

Humour is also an important part of The Gardener, with a sense of fun a solid tool in Frank’s belt. “It’s just as much a part of life as tragedy or hurt is,” Cownie says.

I remember my grandma telling me that as she has gotten older, she is touched less and less. That realisation made me make a conscious effort to hold her hand and hug her more often. I tell Coulthard this and she recognises the feeling. She used it in her writing. Theatre is a form defined by its use of language, so the rejection of words is equally as suggestive as an acutely carved turn of phrase. “A lot of the time me and Mary [Rutherford, the actress playing Coulthard’s character’s grandma Alice],” she says, “we won’t be speaking a lot to each other, but we’ll be holding each other.”

Similarly, Dark Matter’s use of Bunraktu puppetry lends itself to a focus on movement rather than words. “It might be a cliche but with puppetry, we go against gravity,” Stergiou says. It makes every shrug or subtle look, every struggle, deliberate. Music serves as another form of communication in Dark Matter, with original music composed for the piece by Gregory Emfietzis. “Scientific research suggests that music is a great way to break through barriers of communication in dementia,” Stergiou says. “There are people that forgot their loved ones’ names but can’t forget a lyric from their favourite songs.”

It can be easy to forget the lives the elderly once lived. “There’s something about being hidden away in these homes,” Cownie says. By doing shows like these, he suggests, it’s uplifting to show all sides of a person, “to see that they still have spark, still have something to say, still have something to offer.” He pauses. “There’s a lot we can learn from them.”  Each of these shows is a song played, trying to reach back in time and grasp a bit more of the old life.

Old age and dementia will affect everyone at some point, whether first hand or through a relative. Cownie notes, “it is surprising that it is not a theme that more often takes centre stage.” According to the Alzheimer’s Society, one in six of us in this ageing population will develop dementia over the age of 80, and the disease is not discriminatory. It affects people of all race, class and gender.

“In the end,” Coulthard says, “my grandma kept wanting her mum.” Apparently common among dementia sufferers, the disease taps into a child’s first memory and maternal instinct. When performing the show, she often has audience members share this experience. Loneliness can have serious effects both on the carer and the sufferer and a demonstration of loneliness can help us feel less lonely. “It’s a shared experience,” Coulthard says. “A lot of people I’ve talked to say it’s really nice to know that you’re not alone.”

Original: Exeunt

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L’Origine du monde by Gustave Coubert in 1886. Isn’t it great?

When we were in school they used to show us a video of a group of school kids on a tube train. One of the kids would be on a different carriage and encourage the others to join them there. So one by one they would jump over from their carriage to the next, leaping over the gap between them and being pulled through by their friends. Then one of the kids, I think it was a girl, goes to jump but she’s nervous. Her friends yell at her and she is pressured to jump, and then there’s a sort of crackling and crashing and the video changes to one of a watermelon being squashed into thousands of squelchy little pieces as it gets trapped between the tube carriages and smashes to the ground, the tube racing on ahead. That watermelon was meant to be that girl’s head.

Watching that video is what the script of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. feels like.

Revolt. is a piece of fiercly strong feminist theatre that would have much of Twitter exploding with calls of feminazis. Revolt. is about how we talk about sex, gender, and consent. It’s about how we deal with women, and how we deal with being women. It started its life at the RSC in 2014 with a series of other plays that had the provocation: ‘well behaved women rarely make history’.

So I’m going to talk a bit about women, and consent, and being well-behaved.

A few weeks ago I had sex (woah IKR- I swear this gets more interesting). Then – for various reasons that are explained probably too openly in the link below- decided I didn’t want to have sex and asked him to stop. More than once. He did not. I saw, and still see, this as a form of assault because it was non-consensual. I wrote something about it, and it was clear that not everyone agreed with me. I was sent a few messages.

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Which was fun.

But that’s not the point, I’m not the point of this. The point is- yes, it’s a tricky subject, and yes, what happened to me “could have been worse”. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay. If that’s okay, where do you decide draw the line? Is it only not okay if the girl is crying? If she’s bleeding? If she’s shouting for help?

What Revolt. does is say this isn’t okay.

Revolt. reveals the language of control between genders that might make us think these things are okay. Because if we have an unbalanced language we use for sex, how can we expect people to know that those words translated into physical actions aren’t okay too? When I said stop, I was no longer a person having sex, I was an object being had sex with. By inverting the language and switching up how we talk about sex on stage, Revolt stands up and says, look, do you see these things aren’t acceptable?

Which I really needed to hear.

So perhaps this production will mean more to me than others, but there are plentiful reasons why I think it is still an inspiring play for a wide audience.

‘I want to make Love to you

Or

With?’

(This article on the patriarchy of sex is great too.)

I hadn’t read Revolt. before seeing it, but interviewed director Erica Whyman for AYT about it when it premiered. (I particularly remember because Lyn Gardner retweeted it and that was very exciting.) In that interview, Whyman said this:

“On the one hand [this provocation is] an interesting thought about women now, and whether we’re still expected to behave differently to men, and whether we have to behave badly in order to get noticed. But the other provocation is that their plays don’t have to be well behaved and can experiment with form.”

Birch’s script does both of these things. It swears and spins and screams and says this which is stunning:

‘Lie down and become available. Constantly. Want to be entered. Constantly. It cannot be an Invasion, if you want it. They Cannot Invade if you Want It. Open your legs and throw your dress over your head, pull your knickers down and want it and they can invade you no longer.’

The script also has a form similar in style -when looking at it on a page- to the work of Sarah Kane. The power of Revolt. undoubtedly lies in it’s script and its revolutionary call to celebrate vaginas in a way that manages to make the audience rock with laughter. It twists the norm and makes you reconsider the way you speak, and what you expect from others.

So then, the production. It has ups and downs. It’s like it chokes you and holds you up against a wall and you can’t breathe and then suddenly drops you, runs away to get a Sainsbury’s meal deal or something, then comes back a while later and picks you back up.

Everyone in Edinburgh is talking about Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat, the play about sex and gender with lots of on-stage fingering. (I haven’t seen it but everyone who has is *very* keen to discuss). Next to Triple Threat, it feels like little else at the Fringe could be called radical, but the staging of Revolt.– which by it’s very nature, and the provocation it’s responding to, should be radical- doesn’t even get close to claiming the word.

(But it’s on at the Traverse so perhaps that’s not unexpected? Or is that unfair on the Traverse? But that’s a whole different conversation.).

The staging for the first few sections of the script revolve around beams of light, which I think look pretty cool, but apparently this has been done a lot before, better. It puts the focus on the words, the subtleties of action, the swing of a chair or the writhe of a hip. Anyway, I like it.

But the light beams aren’t used very much and afterwards, any sense of coherent style evaporates. The script suggests no props should be used but Whyman’s staging disobeys this, bringing on all the objects the script vaguely refers to- watermelons and bluebells and potatoes rolling around the stage- and it feels a bit GCSE.

In Birch’s script she has headings, great headings like:

REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE (INVERT IT).

which they project onto a massive screen in this production. It feels a little too easy. Shouldn’t we have to guess these, aren’t they sort of stage directions rather than words we should see or hear?

Then there’s the ending. It was building well, the cast were saying things that made so much sense. Then they laid the table and suddenly became a grandma, mum and child and what they were saying didn’t seem to mix with what they were doing. The passion had suddenly disappeared and it wasn’t weird enough to be swept up in nor naturalistic enough to believe. I’m still not sure what we were meant to think of that scene. Finally all of the individual sections are thrown together in a conglomeration of cries and rants and a spinny chair. It feels thoughtless, it’s simultaneously not messy enough and too messy, it’s organised fun. Watermelons are smashed all over the place and I don’t understand why, and all I can think about is that video of the girl’s head as the watermelon as it’s smashed between the tube carriages.

I want to leave the theatre feeling invigorated, wild, like I do after the first two scenes (particularly the first), but instead I’m a little confused, a little deflated, a little unsatisfied. I hope I get to see this play again in the future in different hands, and perhaps those final scenes will make sense to me. But I’m very grateful to have seen this play, because I needed something bigger than another person to look at me and say it isn’t your fault, that’s not okay.

Revolt. She said. Revolt again. And again please.

(Seen on 17/08/16 at the Traverse at the Edinburgh Fringe)

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Notes: A) Trigger warning for descriptions involving sexual assault. Please don’t read if you think it might be upsetting for you. B) I know Zero’s cast and production team but would hope that personal knowledge doesn’t affect my judgement.

You’ve always believed that words have superpowers. They can bring out the strongest emotions and form the most elaborate stories. They can create new worlds, make people laugh, help you fall in love and spread empathy and understanding.

But what if your words aren’t listened to? What if you say stop but he doesn’t hear, so you say it again but this time he chooses not to? What if he thinks he knows what you mean and he thinks you mean the opposite?

If that one syllable can be misunderstood, mistaken or ignored – if someone can put their orgasm before your consent – then what’s the point of using any words at all?

The law acknowledges that it takes a few seconds for a man to gather his wits and pull out or away, but this is longer than a few seconds.

You tell him to stop because it’s too loud and you don’t want your family to hear and you tell him again and you mean it and you’re more nervous now and he’s not stopping and you’re not turned on anymore and as your body reacts to your brain it’s not exactly painful but it’s not feeling good and he’s not listening and it’s like when you’re on your phone and someone’s talking to you but you don’t really hear them because you’re too engrossed in the conversation and it’s not an excuse and you can see from his face that it’s going to end soon so you stop saying no and you give up and you look to your wall by your right side where there’s a bunch of photos of you and your friends from school and you’re all smiling and you wait and you’re silent and he doesn’t even notice and he finishes and he’s triumphant and he has no idea.

It’s maybe only a few minutes but for those few minutes you don’t want to be there, and you told him that by saying no. He gets louder when you want silence and now he’s gone and you can’t deal with the silence so you distract yourself by putting on a scary TV show to scare yourself in a different way.

That night you send him a message. He should have stopped when you said stop. You curl up in your sheets and hug the teddy who has been with you since you were two. You get out of bed and drink a lot of water and brush your teeth until the taste of him is gone.

He gets your message in the morning. He hadn’t realised what he’s done and begins to apologise so much you think his fingers will weave an enormous sculpture of the word sorry and his mouth will turn into a stitching patterned in the same shape. You thank him for accepting it and not being defensive. He says he would never do that. But then he says he only continued because he thought you wanted to.

He didn’t think you meant it when you said no.

You keep wanting a shower.

When you ask directly, he admits he wouldn’t have said anything if you hadn’t told him. He doesn’t really realise it’s wrong until you point it out. He says he wants to cry. You tell him it’s okay. You find yourself comforting your – no surely, can you call him that? He’s still your friend, isn’t he? But he did it so surely that makes him-?

You’re fine. You’re not scarred for life. You tell him that. You try to joke. But as you say that you wonder if maybe you are just a little bit. If you’ll be more hesitant about going home with someone from a club, or be more wary of dating, or if you’ll ever be able to trust a boyfriend so completely that you know they’d never do that, that they wouldn’t be with you like that without your consent. That they would stop if you asked them to. You wonder if you should give a contract to every boy you ever consider messing around with, make them sign an oath that they will never do that. Insert a chip into their neck that automatically pulls them back to the opposite wall as soon as you say the word stop.

You would say it’s a conversation we don’t have enough, but we do. Everyone knows it’s wrong. And of course he thinks it’s wrong too, it’s just that he didn’t see that he was doing it. He was ‘lost in the moment’. And you talk to a friend and ask if that counts as rape and the friend says yes and you google it over and over on incognito and the time between you telling him to stop and him stopping was only maybe a few minutes so surely it’s not that bad, you think, but those minutes have been playing on your mind and made you feel like you need to hold yourself together slightly in case you fall apart. You hide how much it affects you so as to save him from more concern. To be fair, you’ve just accused him of something pretty hefty, so he’s got thoughts of his own to deal with. You carry on talking and after he’s apologised a lot more you start to talk and joke as normal. Your approach to most things is sarcasm, and gradually it re-emerges, but it’s hard to forget those few minutes and carry on joking.

You’re constantly being told off for being too PC, for jumping on everyone’s comments in case they could seem the slightest bit derogatory. And you can’t tell if you’re overreacting, because you both wanted to have sex and up until that moment it was completely consensual, and it wasn’t as if he hurt you or treated you abusively. He just put his own desire over everything for a few minutes. Is a few minutes really that bad? And you need to write it down in order to make sense of it. Because you kissed him after and you meant that kiss and you like him and he’s not the type of person to do that at all, and you’d never expect him to hurt you or anyone else, and neither would he, and he’s horrified that he did it, once you told him. He’s probably more scarred from the realisation than you are. And he’d never do it again. But he still did it.

You don’t want to tell your best friend or your mum because you were one who went searching and you’re worried they’ll say you kind of brought it on yourself, by putting yourself in that position. But you also realise how dangerous that view is. That is only a step away from saying a girl shouldn’t drink because if she gets raped it’s kind of her own fault for not being aware or sensible enough.

And you carry on talking and joking but you still feel uncomfortable and you tell him you don’t want to have sex with him again and he understands and apologises again. Then you tell him you want space because his continuing to message you with kindness and smiley faces feels uneasy. Because however nice he’s been to you for the rest of the time you’ve known him, you don’t want to be reminded of those few minutes. But he doesn’t seem to understand that’s the reason and sends another smiley face, expecting to hear from you soon.

You’ve just been through a sad break up and you told yourself when getting involved this time – nothing serious, it was just fun and not stressful – that you wouldn’t let yourself get hurt. You thought that meant not getting too many feelings. You thought that meant restricting yourself in some way.

Maybe it’s not that big a deal. Maybe you’re overreacting. Maybe you should just forget about it and not let it affect you. Or maybe you can do without guys for a while, until you’re ready to trust someone else with your body and then maybe your heart, because you really don’t fancy either of them getting hurt again anytime soon.

He sends you another message. ‘Are you just not wanting to have someone at all?’ Yeah. Yeah that’s what you want, for a while at least.

Writing it down helps. Words may not have had much impact in that moment, those minutes, but maybe in the aftermath they really do have healing superpowers.

***

The above is the mindset in which I walk into Zero, a one woman play about broken hearts, broken confidence and broken trust. Those, and sexual assault.

We sit on the curb with Beth as she escapes her 21st birthday party for a moment. Grace Vance plays the gobby birthday girl with a mixture of poise, defiance and shattering vulnerability. She leads us through her story, chatting absent-mindedly and thinking back over the past few years of her life, jumping into the characters she introduces, switching accent with ease and skill.

Beth’s story shows the delicacy of relationships and how easy it is for them to be manipulative. It considers how sex and consent must be treated with such tenderness because when they fall out of balance it’s like everything turns to eggshells. Above all, her story shows how difficult it is to simply forget and move on.

Debut writer Rachel Ruth Kelly has an incredible awareness of youthful language which gives Beth’s monologue an ease to it. There is nothing strained about Vance treading over Beth’s story for an hour, getting worked up and calming herself back down. As Beth’s secret is slowly revealed, Kelly uses witty, dry humour to prevent this from being a self-pitying wallow in her misfortune. She picks up on traits of female language that I see my friends using all the time, habits and mannerisms that slowly wear down self-belief.

The thing is, in these types of situations- and I’m not comparing myself to Beth, she’s had it far, far, worse- it’s a feeling of worthlessness. When the feeling of wanting to be cleansed is gone, it’s the worthlessness that prevails, that jumps into your mind as the person you’re talking to looks over your shoulder for someone more interesting, or as you dig your nail into your skin every time you see a couple holding hands. If you’re dumped or ignored or are lying right there with someone you like and they don’t even hear you, or choose not to listen, or in Beth’s case far worse, it makes you feel like you may as well not be there. It brings your confidence levels down to zero and in Beth’s case, where she doesn’t have anyone close enough to help her build them back up, there isn’t a lot of hope for what happens when she gets up and walks back inside the club.

Zero (made by an all female production team) gives a voice to a young woman rendered silent by the media, by bullies at school and by a man who took advantage of her youth, devotion and desire to be loved.

(Zero is at Underbelly, Cowgate at the Edinburgh Fringe)

***

He sends you another message. ‘Are you just not wanting to have someone at all?’

At first you think: Yeah. Yeah that’s what you want, for a while at least.

But on second thoughts: I have plenty of someones in my life already.

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