On at The Bunker Theatre, London until 26th May 2018
Izzy Tennyson’s new play Grotty, directed by Hannah Hauer-King, certainly evokes an air of grottiness; a nose dive into lesbian subculture, it is somewhat dispiriting, whilst unwaveringly captivating. I have to admit, I’m a die hard romantic, so watching a series of harrowing lesbian dating experiences wouldn’t be my natural choice for an evening out, however, Grotty offers something important in terms of a comment on lesbian subculture and won me over with its edgy comedy and political comment. It felt reminiscent of ‘Fleabag’ – and if you enjoyed that, I anticipate you may enjoy this.
As it points out, lesbian culture is usually confined to basements below heaving gay bars, it’s an environment that has the potential to breed a whole range of difficult things, including mental health issues and addiction. Grotty explores the knock on effect of what happens when people become submerged in such environments and the impact they can have on one another, as we see through the character of Rigby (Izzy Tennyson) a young lesbian woman new to the scene. Her choices of where to meet other gay or bisexual women are extremely limited. Tennyson plays her as almost a clown, certainly a caricature: coked up, gurning and sniffing – if anything I wanted to see her physicality change alongside her character’s journey. However Tennyson fully committed to the role, and carried the bulk of the show with incredible skill. One of my favourite performances of the evening was probably Rebekah Hinds as the straight best friend, she played the character with accurate idiosyncrasies whilst avoiding blatant stereotypes, meaning that she was nothing short of hilarious. It’s also important to mention Anita-Joy Uwajeh and Grace Chilton who give incredibly strong performances throughout and who’s characters bought a good balance to the piece.
In another note, huge kudos to Damsel for not shying away from presenting ‘grotty’ women on stage, all too often women in theatre are perfect and preened, it was so utterly refreshing to see an alternative representation of women, it’s very much needed.
Despite the drama, devastation and drugs, there was a shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I’m torn between recommending this show to young lesbian and bisexual women, and keeping them well away. Had I have seen this 10 years ago it could well have terrified me back in to the closet, or alternatively pre-warned and protected me against some of my own turbulent lesbian dating experiences. Either way, in a world where theatre with lesbian characters is scarce, and where ‘good’ theatre with lesbian characters is scarcer, this certainly ticks both boxes and is a timely and important piece to exist on the LGBT+ theatre landscape.
Image © The Other Richard