The play opens with Paul (Michael Faulkner) onstage with nothing but a box labelled ‘heavy’ in a dark room with a speaker haphazardly playing snippets of songs when it decides to work. He is alone and we soon discover that is exactly what he wanted when he is interrupted by John (Joshua Poole) who enters the room with a ‘fragile’ box.
Unfortunately, he chose to walk in just as Paul had placed his hand down his pants… The meeting is awkward and made more so when John shuts the door to find it is now jammed and they are locked in the room together without escape.
For strangers, the two men’s interaction is extremely hostile and Faulkner’s depiction of Paul is particularly aggressive and intimidating. In contrast, Poole plays John as gentle and a little stilted and unsure of himself with a pang of smugness that makes him a little irritating. This sets up a big issue that is discussed throughout the piece – class. Paul claims to have lived on an estate and had little opportunity growing up. He is quick to brand John ‘posh’ when we learn of his rich father and private school education.
Despite mocking one another for their stereotypical versions of what their class might make them, both characters seem to be trying to impress the other with their knowledge and understanding of what they imagine the others life may be, with John listing rappers and Paul talking of classical music several times throughout the piece. This does show something about the competitive bravado of masculinity that we see, that perhaps deep down does not even exist – both men just want to be accepted and validated by the other.
The attempt to tackle problems within masculinity and class was apparent throughout. Britney’s ‘toxic’ was played over the speaker, the boxes labels showed us the weight and struggle men face in modern society and phrases such as ‘gay’ and ‘pussy’ were openly disputed and unpacked. Some of this seemed a little basic and obvious, but nevertheless, it can only ever be a good thing to bring these issues to the forefront in whatever way we can and ‘Did it Hurt?’ did this, relentlessly and really tried to smash down division and cruelty that we see with expectations men face, pressure and class.
That the pair were so immediately hostile was a little confusing and some context or more of a settling into their relationship might have made their interaction easier to comprehend. However, later it seemed that their meeting and the circumstances in which they had come to be in this room together was particularly surreal and perhaps allowed for the immediate depth and intensity of their conversation. This explanation was very late into the show though and I do think we needed more information and understanding earlier on so that we could digest the drama unfolding before us better.
Humourous moments and relatable observations of the society we live in interjected the intensity of the script throughout and gave real moments of pleasure. The actors’ talent and commitment to the script made for a sense of theatricality as well. Did it Hurt? is at times a little contrived but battles real issues with sensitivity and understanding and makes for a piece of quality drama.
Review by Freya Bardell
Two strangers are trapped in a room. Once inside, they cannot leave.
The gravity of their collective pasts holds them there as surely as a locked door. With nothing to do but get
to know one another, the men are forced to expose their innermost thoughts and ideas. As reality outside
of their little black box begins to blur and distort, this encounter becomes a dangerous commentary on the
toxic nature of the male psyche.
These meandering men think themselves safe. But as their conversation flows, the current carries them
away to vaster and deeper waters – the deeper you go, the darker it gets.
Quietly sinking, are they able to keep afloat? A darkly funny, introspective and brutal look under our skin.
Did it Hurt?
A new play written and performed by Michael Faulkner & Joshua Poole
Directed by Kathryn King (as part of Camden Fringe)
6th – 11th August at 7:15 PM (running time 60 mins)
Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, London, NW1 2PY