Breathing Corpses (2005), by Laura Wade (Published by Oberon Books)
“I touched something, or I was touched – I don’t know”: We’ve all seen stories in newspapers and TV bulletins about people out walking their dog when they stumble across a body. Those people are soon forgotten about, overshadowed by the story at large – but it must have an effect on them, right?
Laura Wade ponders this topic with queasy cyclicality in Breathing Corpses. The play opens and closes with young chamber maid, Amy, discovering a body nestled in the sheets of a suburban hotel room – and it’s not her first. Pills and a note lead Amy to wonder who the man is, or used to be, and what led him to this morbid end. In answer to this puzzle, Wade’s play takes a series of backwards steps, with each scene seemingly explaining its predecessor. We meet an array of interesting characters, from storage unit proprietors, to an abusive workaholic that bares a grudge against her boyfriend’s dog, to a charmingly enigmatic kitchen utensil supplier.
As an exploration of fatalism Wade’s play is intriguing, but it ultimately poses more questions than it answers. I longed to spend more time with her characters (loathsome as some are), discover more about their motives and perhaps empathise with, or at least understand, their actions. However, there are moments of lucidity which perfectly capture the mental anguish of regret, denial and paranoia.
Adult Child/Dead Child (1987), by Claire Dowie (Published by Methuen)
“You want to hit out because of this lack of love that you can’t explain”: Claire Dowie’s monologue tackles the vicious circle of childhood neglect, abuse and mental illness, and the life-long effects they have on a person. Prosaic but profound, Dowie’s text is a collage of memory, poetry and soliloquy which propels us through the early life of her nameless protagonist with rhythmic intensity.
Dowie’s child is anonymous and genderless – all we know is that they suffer deeply. The child’s parents are constantly disappointed with them, locking them in cupboards and dishing out cruel ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ punishments when the protagonist does anything wrong. From a lack of affection, the child clings to any form of attention on offer, manifesting mostly through its imaginary friend, ‘Benji’. Benji is reckless. Benji lashes out at those that oppress the child, but Benji never gets the blame. The lack of trust in adults and the frustration regarding their inability to express their feelings leads the child down a dark path of destruction and isolation.
The language is simple and repetitive, demonstrating an understanding of infantile thought patterns. Thus the events described are even more shocking due to this childish, naive perspective. Adult Child/Dead Child is a tough read, but enlightening nonetheless, and not without glimmers of hope. The importance of kindness, honesty and compassion are emphasised in later scenes, as the now young adult protagonist creates a circle of friends. Yet the lasting impact of a distraught childhood has undoubtedly scarred the protagonist, and we know that the struggle will continue and Benji will continue to rear her head to coerce and fill the hole that familial love abandoned.
Published by Methuen.
Thatcher’s Women (1987), by Kay Adshead
“We’re just ordinary women you and me, we’re not cut out for…”
In the postscript to Thatcher’s Women, Adshead explains the phenomenon in the late 80s of housewives coming to London ‘in their thousands’ to earn some quick money as prostitutes. In her play, first produced by Paines Plough at the Tricycle, the inevitable closure of a northern tinned meat pudding factory puts many out of work, adding to the already-high numbers of the unemployed. This may be a familiar trait for drama at the time, but Adshead chooses to place the play’s focus on the story of three women going from the dole to the moll. What emerges is a fast paced story of women finding and losing their voices in London, and an interesting take on enterprise in Thatcher-era Britain.
Each woman has a defined and interesting arc even, and the argument that the characters make to justify their decision is interesting. Marje sees it as an escape from the social restrictions put on women like her: ‘because we were worthless they wanted us to… stay quiet, stay inside, … so they could forget us. But I did something extraordinary’. This autonomy, although it risks her life and health, is a path to being something more. We’re left to question if Lynda, the youngest of the three, has been the most successful even if she’s earnt the most money. In one scene, she has been rendered unconscious and physically marked, yet she still dreams of creating her own escorting business which pays enough for a Central London penthouse, fur coats and two holidays a year. It’s a reminder that, with Thatcherism, success relies on money. Norah probably returns home with less money than she arrived with but we see form a peculiar friendship with a man at the King’s Cross buffet (long before the days of Pret). However, as much as I enjoyed the scenes of her ‘cultural enlightenment’ around London, these raise some questions which are not fully explored about the ‘north-south’ divide in the play.
Adshead evokes strong northern female characters that are reminiscent of those in Kay Mellor’s work. However, imagery of nature and cruelty permeate the play in a fascinating. Marje’s strange affinity with a fox on Wandsworth Common is like an epiphany, giving her a purpose beyond what she had previously known. But at what cost? And perhaps pre-empting plays such as Stef Smith’s Human Animals, the work of Jez Butterworth and Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral, we see a hint of animals holding an ancient hold over the city.
Published by Methuen.
Superhoe (2019), by Nicôle Lecky
“I’m not lonely, I’ve got two thousand eight hundred followers”
It’s a shame I missed this at the Royal Court. As well as writing it, Lecky took the starring role as wannabe musician Sasha and played all of the supporting characters. The text alone is quite a feat, moving from monologue to quasi-dialogue, creating a fully-believable, talented and flawed 24 year old whilst also capturing the voices of different characters. Plus original songs! Having split up with her long term boyfriend and no longer welcome in her family home, Sasha is forced to stand on her own two feet. Used to sitting in her room smoking weed and laying down tracks which she imagines she’s performing at a live lounge, she now finds herself sleeping on the sofa of someone who keeps machete on the wall and has an apparent mental health problem. Then she enters the world of social media lifestyle models, adult-camming and eventually escorting.
Lecky’s language and portrayal of London (from rundown bedsits to unbelievably extravagant, ‘charity’ parties) is highly astute and evocative. She doesn’t shy away from the realities, the lifestyle and the repercussions of how she’s earning (good) money. Of course, it’s a more contemporary depiction than in Thatcher’s Women, but it also is more honest, specific and, at times, brutal. As her lifestyle becomes more that of dreams, the more she loses a sense of herself: “I look at my page sometimes and think ‘Fuck me do I want her life,’ then I realise I do have my life only it’s slightly different”. This seems to be a play inspired by Fleabag. This is not only in regards to its subject, its fearless approach to it, and its humour. It’s also relating to the depiction of feeling lost and destructive in a society where opportunities are not as open to all. And interestingly, both Sasha and Thatcher’s women are drawn to prostitution because of the social pressures, whether 1987 or 2019.
Published by Nick Hern Books.