I wonder what a show like Hedgehog will be like twenty years from now, if Manda (Zöe Grain) were seventeen years of age in 2019 instead of 1999, and an audience were sat in the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, or perhaps somewhere else, in 2039 watching a coming of age story unfold. For one thing, the ubiquity of mobile telephony might have changed some of the details of the narrative, and there may have been, for instance (as there is in some shows set in the 2010s) the inclusion of exchanges of messages on apps and digital platforms, projected onto screens for all the audience to see.
Instead, the production makes use of acetate sheets on an overhead projector (to assist with setting time and place), the sort of projectors that used to get wheeled around a school to whoever apparently needed it the most – my own school even used them for school assemblies, too stingy to use hymn books for the ‘acts of collective worship of a broadly Christian character’ that schools are still, to this day, technically supposed to carry out (though as it hasn’t been monitored by the schools inspection body Ofsted since 2004, I suspect very few these days still do it).
The play’s storyline makes clear that some things don’t change, and I don’t just mean the Spice Girls being popular (a tune of theirs features in the show, albeit briefly), which happens to be topical at the time of writing as they are continuing a concert tour. There are moments in the show when it’s not entirely clear what Manda’s position is on whatever she is talking about, because at that age, some – and by no means all – teenagers’ thoughts scramble in several different directions at once, trying to make sense of the world in which they live.
Thus, some of Manda’s thoughts may come across as somewhat contradictory in nature, but again, this is indicative of the way in which her mind works, processing what she perceives as attacks from her employer, her mother and even her friends and acquaintances – and she does that thing where the bedroom door is slammed shut and the music blares out as loud as it can (hence the Spice Girls routine in the show), in some sort of attempt to drown out the various accusatory ‘voices’ in her life, in her case telling her that she is “unacceptable”.
Manda does virtually all the talking in the show, though two others, named only as ‘Them’ (Lucy Annable and Emily Costello) help to act out people that Manda gives voice to. Her mother, for instance, is portrayed as eccentric, at least when it comes to personal taste in clothes to be seen in public in. Rather refreshingly, one doesn’t get the feeling that Manda ‘hates’ either of her parents, as though biting the hands that feed her. Manda’s palpable frustration is more with the world at large as she concludes it is no wonder that (some) teenagers and young women of her generation behave in the way in which they do given the parameters that society gives them to live within.
It wasn’t, at least for me, the easiest story to follow, perhaps partly because I can’t relate to going clubbing – I wasn’t against other people doing it, or clubbing in general, but it was just something I never had a personal appetite for. That doesn’t stop the production from being a good one. Some physical theatre was more noticeable in the earlier scenes, and the play proceeds overall at a brisk pace. It is not difficult to remain engaged in proceedings when Manda spends most of her time directly addressing the audience in a largely agreeable manner, talking as though she were a friend I had met up with for coffee and conversation. An intriguing and inventive coming of age production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The 1990s. The East Midlands. A girl left standing on the edge of the dance floor.
And a dead hedgehog.
This story of 17-year-old Manda, at the end of the 90s. Dad’s pissed in the living room, watching the darts. Mum’s on the rosé, and Manda’s losing her mind.
She’s on the cusp of womanhood, and the world’s about to enter a brand spanking new Millennium.
A story of the anxiety, sex, love, family and identity, as well as coming to terms with life, her place in this brave new world and ultimately, how we all find a way to cope.
Written for one female voice, and based on real experiences, HEDGEHOG attempts to unpack the odyssey of the day to day, how huge and insurmountable the world can seem to a person coming to terms with adulthood, and how the creeping spectre of anxiety takes root in young people.
WRITTEN BY: Alexander Knott
DIRECTED BY: Georgia Richardson
Manda: Zöe Grain
Manda’s Body/The Ensemble: Emily Costello / Lucy Annable
Music by: Samuel Heron & James Demaine
RUNNING TIME: 70 Mins (No Interval)