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Lit – Nottingham Playhouse | Review

Nothing at all comes as a surprise in Lit, and I’m not sure whether that’s a terrible indictment on contemporary society or not. Well, it must be, given the harrowing narrative, but then it’s rather like crime statistics – are they going up because crime really is getting more prevalent, or because more crime is being reported than previously, or both? Bex Bentley (a mesmerising Eve Austin) is a teenager in the care system – this isn’t a ‘woe is me’ story: her carer Sylvia (Maxine Finch) has her own demons she is battling with, and while Bex believes herself to be streetwise, there are limits to what she knows, and there are certain things she ends up discovering the hard way through a mixture of stubbornness and naivety.

LIT - Pamela Raith Photography.
LIT – Pamela Raith Photography.

She strikes up a conversation with Ruth (Tiger Cohen-Towell), and despite their markedly different personalities, Bex finds herself invited around to Ruth’s place. She also finds herself invited around to love interest Dillon’s (Josh Barrow) place, a caravan which he shares with older brother Lee (Kieran Hardcastle). Unfortunately, Lee is a 30-year-old man who is more than happy to have teenage girls at his place for all the wrong reasons, and therefore this is one of those shows that I have no qualms about having lots of exposition (as in descriptions of events, not as in exposure). It’s never difficult to figure out what has gone on, even if much of it goes undramatised.

Completing the set of on-stage characters is Ruth’s father Mark (Jim Pope), who is slightly underwritten, perhaps deliberately so: Bex answers various questions from him but when the tables are turned, it’s somewhat telling that he is rather evasive, and from an audience perspective, there aren’t any skeletons in Bex’s closet. Bubbly and gregarious for the most part, Bex is never just ‘all right’ or ‘doing okay’ – she’s either on top of the world or otherwise very upset and distressed. That is, until the final scene: a coming of age, if you will. Emotions continue to run high but there is some poignancy in an expression of future intentions and hope for the future.

Character development is brilliantly executed, and it is also pleasing to report that the play tells its story in forward chronological order, rather than being one of those contemporary works that flits between decades to the point of disorientation. Scenes are often short, which in live performance would mean a lot of scene changes: here, the filmed performance format allows for as many scene changes as there would be in a motion picture. It is symbolic of Bex’s life in the care system, going from one place to the next, never entirely sure how long her current home will remain her address.

It’s gripping stuff from beginning to end, and it’s a testament to Sophie Ellerby’s writing that the fairly high level of strong language felt strangely appropriate for the production and its storyline. The care system doesn’t, predictably, come across very well in a story in which Bex finds herself in far from ideal circumstances, at least partly because she was allowed to do so: boundaries were either ambiguous or non-existent. Austin’s Bex goes from timid vulnerability to screaming the house down – it’s an intense and entirely convincing performance. It is not so much a triumph over adversity story as one that exposes, in stark detail, how girls and young women are taken advantage of. Not always comfortable viewing, this uncompromising and dynamic production provides no easy solutions to a pertinent problem in Britain today.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

I’m making him work for it. Got him to buy me a pack of Tangfastics and a can of Lilt before I showed him my tits.” The problem with love is that it’s different for everyone. For Bex, love is a handjob in detention and the promise of a date at a Chinese buffet. She doesn’t even like Chinese.

LIT explores the turbulent teenage years of a girl looking for love in all the wrong places, and reunites director Stef O’Driscoll with rising star Eve Austin – reprising her role as Bex following a nomination for Best Actress in a New Play (Broadway World Awards).

Cast
Bex – Eve Austin
Dillon – Josh Barrow
Ruth – Tiger Cohen-Towell
Sylvia – Maxine Finch
Lee – Kieran Hardcastle
Mark – Jim Pope

Creatives
Writer – Sophie ellerby
Director – Stef O’Driscoll
Designer – Lulu Tam
Lighting Designer – Peter Small
Sound Designer – Dominic Kennedy
Movement Director – Hayley Chilvers

https://nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/

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