Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 29 September 2018
Throughout history, women have had to navigate between what women ‘should’ do and their own preferences. Rules about clothes, votes, marriage… the lists are endless. Even rock music – supposedly the ultimate expression of “sticking it to ‘The Man’ ” – has had its own ‘taboos’. Joan Jett was once told girls don’t play electric guitars – so she went and did it anyway… Written by Lydia Rynne and directed by Kay Michael, Hear Me Howl looks at Jess (Alice Pitt-Carter) a young professional whose life mirrors many women in Britain. What sets her apart, however, is the news that… she’s pregnant and is considering an abortion. Nothing unusual about that I hear you cry. But to decide to never, ever have children?
The duress that Jess endures comes in many different forms and from the closest of people. Her best friend is over the moon at her pregnancy and thinks it’s a positive development in her life. Similarly, Jess’ boyfriend Taj, after the initial shock, realises that he wants marriage, kids – the whole nine yards. But Jess doesn’t want marriage or kids and if she wasn’t pregnant, it would be a non-issue. But if she does agree to society’s ideal of domestic bliss, she would be doing it for others rather than her own happiness…
As Jess, Pitt-Carter is very amiable and as we the audience listen to her tale, her character doesn’t come across as someone who is belligerently single-minded. Surrounding her during her monologue is a drum kit – an instrument that symbolises her efforts to be ‘heard’, as well as the instrument she will eventually play later in the show. The leader of the band she plays in is in many ways everything Jess wants to be – free from 9 to 5 responsibilities, informed, stands by her convictions, but also easy going too. Oh, to be like her!
There is another woman in Jess’ life who loves her unconditionally but doesn’t deign to tell her what to do – her mother. Of all the people who know what the pros and cons are of raising a child, it’s her. But with the perspective of hindsight, would she have made the same decision again? And what would she think if her daughter went through with an abortion?
There is an awareness in Rynne’s writing, that shows uncertainty and indecision spring from not knowing what one wants – or if that’s known, squaring it with the values of others. But of course we only have one life to live – our own.
And for those of you who might be thinking the drum set is a visual gimmick for Hear Me Howl – it’s not. Just wait until the end of the show…
© Michael Davis 2018
Hear Me Howl runs at Old Red Lion Theatre until 29th September.
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