Brighton Fringe 2016
The recently-formed but peer-praised Little Red Chair Theatre Company makes its Fringe Debut. Director Molly Bater also scripts this punchily-short, disturbing drama about childhood sexual abuse. It premieres at Sweet Venues 2 at the old Waterfront hotel.
Molly Bater playwright and director of Little Red Chair Theatre Company, brings Distortion to premiere at Sweet Venues 2, the Waterfront Hotel. Her colleague Emily Aisher makes clean efficient use of the black space.
Memories of Alma, a child of nine are refracted through her 21-year-old self looking back, achieved through a crisp projection of this older self on video with adult hairstyle, which actor Tania Van Amse manages to contrast with unnerving ease to her live childhood self. A flurry of ringlets and high voice and we’re thrown to the past, live wild-child commented on by her blogger self when lights go down.
Van Amse here reflects on the nature of memory as processing only a record of itself, a palimpsest fading to falsity, carefully-placed lies, suppressions, even what well-meaning others tell her about what she’s experienced.
Nine-year old Alma’s talented but troubled, in a home. She’s befriended by Danny (Jeannie Dickenson) a policewoman and teacher of 25 who brings her out of her damaged self – Alma’s father’s in prison. Danny teaches her to paint, she’s gifted; Danny makes much of her. But Danny also fights the fact that she wants to have sex with her.
In fairness Danny resists her desires with considerable force, as counterposed to this, she recalls her fate; just as Alma struggles to record the exact nature of their intimacy.
This is graphically enough presented. Much is made of child’s play, balloon-popping, an eerily prophetic hobby-horse, an insistent rhyme about strangers’ presents with explicit distortions – the embedded word here – and at one point Alma’s bland statement that in seven years time she’ll be able to tell daddy that Danny is her girlfriend.
Inevitably David Harrower’s 2007 Blackbird hovers; there are key parallels but clear divergences with more potential ones. Distortion runs barely 35 minutes, both protagonists are female and even more crucially Alma’s nine, not twelve, doesn’t understand a glimmer of sexual consent: the disturbing thing about Blackbird.
Here, however, the outfall for the already-distressed Alma is even more damaging. There’s a fundamental flinch from adult life, it seems – though not stated – and she can no longer paint. Naturally there’s a denouement and clever twist of chronology.
Nothing’s redundant, van Amse marshals a register of voices that wholly convince; as well as even managing to look like a child. Dickenson well conveys her conflicted pitch-black desire and even more confused tenderness towards her victim. She rolls a gamut of denials onto stiletto-shafted truths.
Bater’s an extremely assured writer, knows how to structure a short drama, even in this tight compass. The telling rhyme, the mnemonic gestures we nod to knowingly having realised where they come from, the proleptic one we suddenly get afterwards, where Amse enacts something that will happen in theatrical future we know nothing of, but chronologically flops anywhere.
There might have been greater surprise, perhaps more equivocal exploration of that final encounter that Bater, having tackled such disturbing territory, could push further. Something remarkable might result. There’s a disturbing tiny classic this seems a preliminary draft for; another fifteen tightly-scripted minutes might make the difference.