Bunker Theatre – until 26 May 2018
Semi-autobiographical in nature, Grotty – which is written by Izzy Tennyson and directed by Hannah Hauer-King – looks at the Dalston lesbian subculture in east London. It’s a very candid affair and doesn’t balk from depicting a less-than-flattering portrayal of people within the scene. Seen through the eyes of Rigby (Tennyson), a young 20-something who is new to being a lesbian, she works as an intern at a television station. Rigby finds that several of the older women have taken an interest in her and much of the play is spent between two of these – Toad (Rebekah Hinds) and Witch (Grace Chilton).
Toad also works in media, but beyond this has little in common with Rigby. Things aren’t made easier by the perennial presence of Toad’s ex, Natty (Anita Joy-Uwajeh) who wants Rigby to introduce her to Josie. Josie is more experienced than Rigby and as a consequence, more openly critical of everything. In short – Josie can quite happily say “No”.
The caustic banter, of which there is much, is very funny – especially when one assumes subcultures as open-minded. The flip side of this rhetoric is for those who are on the receiving end of this banter (which is often behind people’s backs) their reputation has been torn to shreds.
There is one question that the older women keep asking Rigby, the same one that the audience does too. If she’s having such a rotten time, why does she keep coming back? When mentioning what she likes about such-and-such, Rigby says they have a nice flat. This could be because she’s materialistic, but this thought crossed my mind: where does Rigby live? We never see or hear about it in the play. Is she in fact homeless? By her own admission, Rigby just wants someone to hold her and be tender with. What she puts up with in the hope this might happen is extraordinary. She also realises that certain people don’t view her as a person, but as an “experience”.
Fifty-odd years ago, Frank Marcus’ play The Killing of Sister George featured ‘Childee’, a younger woman who is routinely bullied by her much older partner, ‘George’. On the evidence of Grotty, for some people nothing’s really changed – ‘getting off’ not on intimacy, but on having power over people. Within Rigby’s social circle, the person who fulfils this role is S&M devotee Witch. But like many people who are ‘immunised’ to the pain of others, her own bad experiences have informed her future tastes.
Throughout the play, Rigby can be described as a ‘hot mess’, as she’s usually the worse for wear after consumption of drugs and alcohol. This brings into question the mental health of Rigby, her subsequent vulnerability and the duty of care that should have been offered by her peers. While the ‘scene’ has an Aleister Crowley-esque philosophy (“Do as thou wilt”), Rigby’s status is analogous to Frank Wedekind’s Lulu – with many others projecting their wants and baggage onto her, but finding little personal happiness.
The play’s denouement with Clare Gollop offers an insight into Rigby’s past and who mattered to her. Yet even without this, it’s possible to deduce the reason Rigby stays within her present ‘social circle’ and its associated patterns of behaviour is because, deep down, she thinks she ‘deserves’ it…
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