Brighton Fringe 2017
American dramatist Erin R Hartnett’s play, directed by Nicholas Collett features her co-writer Sam Wright, also American, who also composes the songs, as song-writer Will. Kizzy Kaye portrays Lucy Turner. Kaye shares this role with Margaret Kilcoyne who takes over for the latter half. Bare props, a small bench and a bed festooned with teddy bear, duvet, wheelchair and a stache of drugs underneath complete a functionally tight set.
When an author entitles her experiences in How to Walk Through Hell as based on her own, you might wonder if we’re close to stories of abuse and terror. Yes, but it’s not someone else, it’s a tic that started it when the protagonist was eight, and the abuse is a virus. Lyme disease.
American dramatist Erin R Hartnett’s play, directed by Nicholas Collett features her co-writer Sam Wright, also American, who also composes the songs, as song-writer Will. Kizzy Kaye portrays in a series of unnerving flinches and outbursts the young woman Lucy Turner – formerly a sound engineer – undergoing this ordeal. She’s British and the only disconcerting element is the fact you have to buy all drugs to survive on; it seems to the UK mildly dystopian, what may well happen. In fact the play’s set in America, where it happened to the dramatist. Kaye shares this role with Margaret Kilcoyne who takes over for the latter half. Bare props, a small bench and a bed festooned with teddy bear, duvet, wheelchair and a stache of drugs underneath complete a functionally tight set.
This is a closely-written closely observed work the actors take with minute observation, a lip curled, a sudden jerky movement. Every flicker of concern, affection, even black rage shows on Wright’s attractive Will as he engages with the vulnerable, touching, exasperating and in monster mood chilling Lucy Turner. At first Lucy’s terrified of this stranger joining her on a bench thinking he might be a rapist, and only later acknowledges she’s known him many years.
Memory blackouts are almost the least of it though they’re the most disconcerting aspects of the ideas that attacks the nervous system. Lucy works this out in a series of complex Venn diagrams with common symptoms (380 of 500!) and it comes out as a probability of Lyme disease, supported by ancillary infections from the same bite years ago.
Lucy it transpires is in perpetual transition, lucid then fitting into unconsciousness or sudden forgetfulness. She alternately pushes Will away then contradicts herself in a close needy plea for him not to visit his new girlfriend Hannah. Terrified Will soothes her with a story of Adam who finds a star fallen from heaven and his adventures in trying to place it back there. This punctuates the narrative. Both are also perpetually on their mobiles, Will to Hannah in an increasingly desperate set of calls, and Lucy likewise to doctors, lawyers and healthcare insurance brokers.
Tight direction ensures the narrative’s never flagging; a new kind of fit presents as Kaye enacts a freshly twisted version of spasm or lapse, fuelled occasionally by a cocktail of Tramadol or other pain-altering drugs. The closer Lucy gets to identifying the disease then what stage it’s at, the nearer she gets to not coming back; Will revives her several times. At one moment her speech becomes incomprehensible; again it seems terminal.
Will’s arc too is that of renunciation, though it’s him who receives wrath. Wright’s particularly fine at conveying a sense of wounded love, a man who loses everything it seems for Lucy who can only offer insults as aversion therapy, since she wants quite often to die partly out of guilt. She’s also ambivalently jealous, eagerly the first to spot what Hannah’s doing now on Facebook. The nature of the Will/Lucy relationship though platonic feeds subtexts and speculation. It’s a kind of loving though how it’ll play out isn’t predictable.
One set scene where Will’s playing a gig with his guitar and Lucy’s OD-ing is particularly memorable as well as dramatically satisfying. He sings of Orpheus. The denouement to this and elsewhere is thrilling; the two actors spark a ferocious chemistry that leads to a epilogue you should see.
The acting of both Wright and Kay is exemplary, some of the finest naturalistic acting seen on the Fringe this year, indeed consummately professional. You want to see what life – the imagined life created by these characters, rather than the dramatist’s own – will do with Lucy and Will. And perhaps you will.