© 2018 Melissa Todd

Hags Ahoy Theatre Company, Broadstairs.

The brightest new theatre group to emerge from Broadstairs this week

Right of Entitlement

Coming to a theatre near you

Steven Todd's new play dissecting disparate cultural aspirations

Photographs from the initial production in Broadstairs

An interview with Adrianna Paniak

Comments received after the first production

 

Fantastically well acted, constantly subverted my expectations and kept me guessing throughout. The drama hinged on a conflict of ideas but it never felt dry or abstract. A fascinating lament about our present catastrophic cultural condition. And all in under 60 minutes! Norman Thomas, editor of Thanet Watch.

 

 

Brilliant on different levels: the interaction of two people who interested me, the raising and pondering of weighty issues of education, society, integration and disintegration. Steven Todd has produced a text that would be drama on the printed page but absolutely bursts to life with the eloquent portrayals by Todd and Adrianna.

 

 

Thought provoking and so accurate…so reflected parental expectations and societal pressures. Absolutely superb performances in both plays.

 

What a great idea - so serious, and yet so entertaining; walking a thin line between profound and absurd. I’m going home to think about which side it fell. Can’t wait for Hags Ahoy’s next production!

 

Brilliantly acted. Pulled us into an intimate and challenging situation that is thought provoking and creates a challenge to society and the education system. 

 

Deep and powerful play, very well acted. So true to life and poignant for today’s youth, the struggle and chasm between social classes. 

 

Excellent performances by both actors. Well done! Loved the play - well-written and thought-provoking. The deliberate silences were really effective too, as they face the audience time to reflect, while giving great weight to the lines that came before and after. Highly recommended.

A Review by Angela Dye

Despite the educational psychologist’s declarations that his qualifications weren't bought, they obviously were, by virtue of being white, middle class and having parents that helped ease the transition, and a society that accepted him, holding no grudges against him. Jacob indicates that it wasn't all privilege though by saying he had a job too-highlighting inequality further- the ease with which those with the good GCSE grades, A levels and a good command of English, a solid background, are able to navigate the system, sliding easily into jobs or internships.

The play intrigued me-not so much the fabulous graffiti at the back, framed to perhaps show it as having value, nor the two people facing the audience, the black walls and dim light- but the two grey oven gloves under the table. This humorous foreshadowing kept me gripped knowing there would be a scene change to release us from the wonderful and intense exchanges between therapist and client. It kept me wondering, in both senses of the word...Word meanings, spellings and semantics are crucial here. Lives can stand or fall upon knowing these things. Steven Todd knows for himself how we so easily fall one side of the pen or another, are divided into sheep and goats at a tender age, where the fish, monkey and elephant are all judged ‘equally’ on their ability to scale a tree.

Who was analysing who? In this two character play we are drawn into observing the frantic pacing, the tiger circling, feeling, and almost touching the girl's rage, and the psychologist’s significant emotional detachment but professional engagement. The play works on the Socratic principle, questions within question. Nothing is answered as the issues do not have a solution and pose more and more questions. An eternal script- rich, complex, nuanced and layered - many a debate can be picked from the bones of it.

The verse daubed by Cleo is still gnawing at my grey matter. All she wanted was for people to stop and think. I cannot stop chewing over the myriad of possible meanings. Ruthlessly stripping societal truth down to its bare bones, exposing a supposed heaven that some could never have?

When she asks the therapist did he meet his wife at university, she indicates clearly it is not a guess but a sarcastic observation of how comfortable and easy life may be, how for some it is smooth and all clicks effortlessly into place. Some people simply inherit a pass to heaven.

Cleo talks of the prominence of social media. Is education really important any-more? Do we really need teachers to tell us things when the world truly is at our fingertips? Despite her terrible schooling and the disadvantages of the education system she has managed to educate herself very well. Cleo may be able to, by the tips of her fingers, the skin of her teeth, save herself. Her great, almost Messianic hurt is seeing others drowning-the bridges and barriers so hard to cross. She cannot save the world but she pastes a statement that seems to make no sense, but then the world we all subscribe to doesn't make sense. She wants people to stop and reflect but is angry that people don't stand and stare, they just don't take the time to unravel her mystery.

In a play that explores power struggles, congruence, disequilibrium and social roles, how did Jacob get Cleo to enter the free association task? She says ‘Of course’ knowing she has to submit to these rites, these power play rites. It is evident that this isn't a first time, a sarcastic ‘let them play their games’. She seems too intelligent to be drawn into passive duels that may reveal her psyche through random words. Words do mean a lot to her: her first utterances show that she feels judged. Understanding and defending reading is important to her. At the end of the play she recalls, in a surreal moment, where the psychiatrist lifts us out of our belief, asking if she is still in the play – she recalls her mother’s levity with words, the saturation of them on the tongue and the mind. Could her mother read or was she actually pretending? Perhaps Cleo just needed to escape into being a child again? is Jacob at a loss and trying to retrieve a counselling situation with tools? Is he showing the ridiculous outcome of years of training- all those certificates amount to a few childish games? Or is Cleo deliberately relinquishing control and letting adults hold the keys and the mysteries they like to believe they hold. Of course, she knows the rules, how one has to play along. As her answers can give a myriad meanings to her inner self, or even a deflection, so Todd hides may nuances within each line.

There are no right answers in this play, like looking in a mirror within a mirror and seeing mirrors stretching into infinity. That is what makes it so intriguing. Todd knows that education is prescriptive and biased and so he shows that true knowledge defies all boundaries and has a multiplicity of possibilities. Perhaps there are no wrong answers either. One is entitled to one’s view. It isn’t necessarily right or wrong. Subjectivity and philosophising isn't the name of the game though. To pass tests in school it all hangs on dots and commas and shape rotations. This play cleverly juxtaposes the cane and the growing plant, showing us that there are many ways to grow and develop if we could just break down inbuilt structures.

Knowledge is easily accessible but knowledge is not power when one is poor and are in schools that expect nothing. Despite an extensive education to rival Jacob’s intellect, Cleo may fail school as despite her knowledge she confuses sounds g/j and confuses the masculine and feminine appropriation of words. This, despite her capricious brain, would cause her to fail in an eleven plus exam that focuses so much on these elements, and is less interested in her debating ability, classical and cultural knowledge.

The play begins with them in consort- setting a scene in unison- entering the play and then in monologue, engaging and disengaging. Are they alive or dead? Is this a memory? Reality? Whose reality, a dreamscape, a nightmare or are they puppets being played, playing their respective parts? Is Cleo an extension of the playwright Steven Todd, grappling with many of the same issues himself at that age?

Who is being analysed, who grows from the experience, why is graffiti not art? Or is it? Behaviour is a language but who will take the time to learn Cleo’s?

She outlives him he says. Do the dead tell this story? Why have they come to give this message? In what realm did they come to understand each other shown in the sardonic, endearing interchange at the end?

Detached from themselves they realise that a good school isn’t the answer as all it will do is blind us to reality and the plights of others and cause us to be part of the problem. Which side of the graffitied bridge do you want to be on? Mind the train- running from Beckenham to Brixton -there will be no compassion.

When the last words are spoken (as the script indicates),people move into the stage area, interact and have discussions, sit and talk. Reality is part of the play. ‘This play doesn't end’ I said, ‘It could go on forever,the issue still isn’t solved.’ ‘That is the point’ said Todd, ‘it hasn't ended. The conversations are all part of it.’ Perhaps Cleo’s words were unknown to herself:  ‘...unknowing the raw bones of heaven.’ Perhaps it was a prophecy. She knew her lot and that of others.

Artoudian in concept: an uncomfortable silence drawing us into the chasms between them. Gestaltist in its therapeutic approach: a giving of self, a sharing and exchange of power. This play challenges the precept laid down in his previous work, Because of the Moon based on the premise of Virginia Woolf who says men set the agenda. Who set the agenda in this play?

Todd says when creating a play, when nurturing a bud of an idea, he sees them in colour and this one stood out as luminous. I guess he saw red: the colour of the school uniform, the colour of her rage, muting to pink as he softened, or burning to black as injustice burned her. Todd declares that ‘Hags Ahoy are punk, so punk they can’t play in tune and to stay out of tune is so besides the point to be irrelevant.’

His lines are rhythmic, sing song. There is poetry,rhyme, monologues, deliberate discordance and sweet coherence. He makes no apologies for the simplicity of set or scene or acts. He had no training and it doesn't show. He throws away the rules saying I can’t play that but I can play it like this.

What’s the takeaway from it? He wants people to have a good time, feel great. How can they do that when the topic is difficult, may raise questions, evoke memories, possible outrage at the poke at their privilege? Ah now that's where the conversation, the interaction, availability as it  ends comes into play. There is resolution as people can come onto the stage and interact and question, ecoming a part of the play-after all we have all played our part, have our stories to tell and still play a part by the policies and ideas we invest in and whom and what we vote for.

Todd at the Tom Thumb

 

Todd is giving a Ted talk at the Tom Thumb (see link) about his career as a playwright on November 2nd, 4-7pm.

 

 https://thanetwriters.com/feature/news/thanet-writers-conference-2019/

An interview with Todd at Manchester