[Review:] HOT MESS, The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London.
Each twin sharing the same heart, Twitch and Polo's story takes us to the waves of an island special to their childhood. This is the basis of Hot Mess, written by Ella Hickson, directed by Julian Bruton and Jay Patel, and performed at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre.
This play is a glorious symbiosis of performance styles, demonstrating how fragmentation, realism and abstraction can meld coherently and excitingly in modern theatre. These styles gave structure and layering to the performance. Polo (Timothy Renouf)'s narrating over scenes about Twitch (Katrina Allen)'s past relationships; monologues, soliloquies and split-scenes; a nonlinear narrative; and realistic conversations all used language in an effective and fluid way to tell the twins' story. Perhaps a little unnaturalistic, but this play created its own world in this unnaturalism, specifically for the wildness of Jacks (Natalia Titcomb)'s character, and held its structure in its return to these styles throughout the play.
The overture of the performance was warm and endearing: Twitch and Polo laughing and joking, making a line of rocks upstage, and Twitch singing along to 'Hey, Soul Sister' by Train. Furthermore, the twins making the line of rocks, which would later represent the tide, drew a subtle and clever line itself between Billy's death and the twins' relationship which led to it. Symbolism was used subtly and efficaciously throughout this performance, and I was specifically intrigued by the use of the cup of water used to recount the story of the twins' heart. I thought this was a refreshing and effective use of symbolism.
Characterisation was good in this performance; however, there were slight choices I felt took away somewhat from the performance. Renouf's physicality I felt was too restrictive in places. For example, in the overture, whilst Allen chose a playful and energetic performance style — which I felt suited the overture the most in its glee — Renouf seemed to be straight-faced and tense, despite joking and throwing and catching the pebbles with Allen. This made for awkwardness in some moments, particularly in scenes with Titcomb, who chose a highly energetic performance style. It was almost dubious that they would be friends in some scenes. This did, however, suit his scenes narrating Twitch's love affairs. As for Allen, character was good, despite the awkward lyricalness in the writing of her monologues, but one moment of fallibility would be towards the beginning of the play where she speaks of her growing relationship with Billy (Gareth Balai), quoting what he has said to her, using an American accent. This accent blended in with her "normal" voice and was lost.
Whilst I felt Titcomb's physicality to be somewhat impertinent to the performance at times, it was truly a hilarious and remarkable choice of character, making for an effective and funny performance. As for Balai, whilst his characterisation was okay, I felt that the choice of having him seem nervous to talk to Twitch at the beginning conflicted greatly with his confident promiscuity and overall bombastic personality.
The writing I felt possessed good versatility, facilitating successfully a wide range of styles. However, I felt that some of the writing was too unnaturalistic, particularly Twitch's lines which felt lodged between informative articulacy and informal chitchat. The choice to have her sing, for too long a time, I felt, was also very odd and awkward. It seemed very unnecessary and random, particularly towards the end of the performance when she sings, stood between Billy and Polo. I felt the cyclicality of the narrative was cliché but that this did not take too much away from the efficacy of the play; but murder I felt sat uneasily with the narrative and felt as though a random shock factor. Whilst I understood that there was a dark undertone in explications of Twitch's past relationships and the way in which she attached herself to others, I felt this was not enough to contextualise murder. The style felt too lighthearted and fluffy for a murder to somehow take place. And whilst I felt the subtlety of not showing Billy's body was refreshing, this subtlety added to the awkwardness of this abrupt murder as an ending. Lastly, there were a few moments where momentum was lost, and this was mainly due to the conflict in performance styles: Jacks having a sizeable monologue towards the end of the performance followed straight after by a drawn-out, restricted monologue by Polo let the energy drop. Not to mention that his sudden quick sprint towards off-stage after this monologue felt very odd and out of place.
The last thing I will draw attention to is the relationship between the performers (specifically, Titcomb) and audience members. This was particular to the club scene. The play thus far had created a self-contained world — especially by drawing a line between the audience and the stage — and to have the performers run through the audience only to run straight back as a transition was very messy for me. As there had not been — and would not be again — any explicit audience interaction, this choice of breaking that self-containment felt very unnecessary and awkward to me. Even more awkward was the choice to have Twitch directly interact with the audience members. Whilst, indeed, being funny, it simply felt extremely incoherent with the rest of the performance. And it seemed to last too long, drawing more unwanted attention to itself.
Despite these few moments of inefficacy, this performance was a highly qualitative piece of modern theatre.