Inkwell Productions set up by UEA students Seàn Bennett and Keelan Swift-Stalley with their friend Ruby Lambert, staged Jack Thorne’s Stacy, at Etcetera Theatre, London. Ned Caderni and Caoimhe Blair both made their debuts, in producing and directing respectively.
The one-man play follows Rob, played by Peter Hardingham. In his twenties and working as a Vodafone call centre operator, Rob lives at home in Croydon with his brother. His stories are funny and relatable, even though he consistently recalls the time his dad stabbed a dog to death in the middle of the street.
Rob’s arch is dark. In the light of the #metoo movement it becomes all too easy to contextualise his experiences with those in the news today.
Thorne’s language points out life’s little details that we too notice, but never speak about. Like the ‘gorgeous gap at the back of the jeans to which girls get when they sit up because they wear their jeans higher than we do’ and ‘the downy hair that always comes just above that.’ This image is simple and beautiful and yet Thorne’s meticulous descriptions provide us with a metaphor for sexual assault: it is complicated and difficult to prove and always comes down to ‘details’. What can and cannot be verified, what is and is not OK. The notorious ‘grey area’. Rob speaks of his actions with such conviction. It is clear what he has done is not OK, and yet somehow, we still sympathise with him.
Caoimhe Blair, UEA alumni, directs Hardingham to draw out just the right amount of variation in emotion, movement, and vocal tone. Putting on a monologue comes with the fear of the performance becoming dull. And yet Blair has directed a mesmerising performance that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
Hardingham transforms himself into each and every character he portrays with such ease. Each recollection truly transports us to the moment the memory takes place. His eyes are captivating, and he moves with composure and purpose. I utterly hated Rob, and yet I found myself laughing at every one of his perfectly timed jokes. And the icing on the cake? I sobbed and sobbed in the smoking area of the Oxford Arms pub, the location of the fringe venue, after coming to terms with the haunting performance I had just encountered.
5 stars for sure.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
An interview with the director, Caoimhe Blair
What was it that prompted you to put on this play?
I’ve wanted to put Stacy on for the last year and a half as I think it’s a highly complex play that’s strength is it’s simplicity. As a first time director a simple set and one man cast seemed a low budget way to test my skills, and the topics the play touches on are issues I am passionate about. Jack Thorne has been a writer I’ve admired for years and Stacy is an early work that really did just stay with me for a long while after reading.
What were the biggest hurdles you faced when directing Stacy?
The biggest hurdles were juggling the jobs of about 5-6 people in a team of two whilst also working full time, trying to put everything together whilst also trying to keep production issues completely out of the rehearsals so that Peter could focus on his performance. One of the biggest creative hurdles was finding refreshing and different ways to bring life to scenes after a month of intensive one on one rehearsals, being aware of how easily attention can wane, whilst trying to not be scared of stillness.
Have you ever seen this play performed anywhere else?
No, I didn’t even look up photos of previous productions as I didn’t want to feel influenced in any way.
How important was it for you to stay true to Jack Thorne’s script and intentions?
I can’t speak to what Thorne’s intentions were, only my interpretation of his script. I felt like the play was tackling isolation and the effects of loneliness but I chose to focus on the female experiences shared in the play throughout the rehearsal process. Peter tried to get the script word perfect but for a one man play, it’s a mammoth task to learn all the lines exactly however he did an incredible job.
Bearing the #metoo movement in mind, how do you think this play has affected the audiences that have watched it?
I think it takes the shock out of the events that are described in the play as talking about sexual assault has become less taboo. However watching the audiences during the performance you could physically feel the tension in the room as more information was divulged- watching them struggle to not laugh after more is revealed about our narrator and the jokes continue was so interesting, no audience reacted the same. Lots of people afterwards said they struggled to just hate Rob as they also felt pity or recognition in his fears. I was trying to make the point that many of us are friends with rapists without ever knowing, and hearing people say that Rob’s character reminded people of friends and conversations they’ve had makes me feel like that point affected many. If nothing else, the #MeToo movement has shown how widespread abuse of power can be, and opened up conversations about consent, power dynamics and systematic abuse. Rob has very little power socially, and his search for meaning and connection has violent and disturbing consequences, and he is not alone.
What did you want to bring to the play that may not have been evident in the script?
I really wanted to focus on exactly what happens to each woman mentioned in the play so Peter and I used hot seating to flesh out each character and talked extensively about their interactions and experiences with Rob. We played out scenes as the women rather than the protagonist and I hope it brought a deeper understanding to the consequences of Rob’s deeply selfish actions. I was keen to focus on Rob’s deep need to be understood and assured that things would be okay and Peter and I focused on pulling the audience in via eye contact. Peter was excellent at picking people out in the crowd, laughing with them then demanding they keep laughing after he stops being funny with a pleading look. We also found a point in the script where Peter had to imagine that the audience was entirely made up of women and it was electrifying how that changed his performance and how he tried to connect.
I found Peter’s performance completely engrossing. How much did Peter’s performance change throughout rehearsals? Did you have to redirect him a great deal so he would create the Rob you had envisioned? Or, did you give him creative freedom?
We tried to build a version of Rob that felt authentic to both of us, one that was sensitive and believable and self destructive in his choices. A lot of our rehearsals was interrogating Rob’s choices and trying out different impulses and mindsets. As a result, we trialled hundreds of different types of Rob. The character is so complex that there are so many different ways you could interpret him, that’s what makes it such an exciting play to direct. I tried to only redirect when I felt like we were veering from Rob’s intentions or when distinctions between ‘narrator Rob’ and ‘flashback Rob’ were becoming blurred, or not blurred enough.
If there is anything you could change about your production of Stacy, what would it be?
I’d make sure the projector works more consistently! Technical problems are to be expected in a show with about 750 photo cues but things unexpectedly turning off could have been better handled so I would get an extra pair of hands for technical jobs. I’m also so curious to see how different emphases would affect the audience’s interpretations of Rob and heightening and lessening certain moments night to night would be a really interesting experiment.