LIT – Nottingham Playhouse & Hightide

Written by Sophie Ellerby

Directed by Stef O’Driscoll

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s pretty easy to write someone off these days; admit it – we’ve all done it. Perhaps it’s their accent or the manner of their attire. Classist elitism at its finest. A chav, a nerd, a junkie, or a hippy – words have authority and influence, and to a young woman, the right words from the wrong man can have severe consequences. For Bex, her cocky and over-sexualised exterior may be see-through for some who care for her, but to the misogynists and abusive men in her life, it’s an ‘invitation’ for their repulsive manners and actions. Sophie Ellerby’s LIT turns the temperature up on the party lifestyle and strikes a match onto the malicious twisting of expectations, consent and growing up. This version has been especially filmed for an online audience.

Respectfully, LIT doesn’t take an easy alternative to its choices and actions – facing them with rigidity and the ugliness of the situation. From early life to troubled teenage years, it seems Bex (Eve Austin) has had difficulties with foster care, and when things seem bright with Sylvia, they end abruptly. Patient, humane and touching, Maxine Finch melds with Austin to form an authentic relationship with frays and challenges, which takes time to evolve but maintains jagged edges.

Outside of her foster mother, Bex’s most visible relationship comes from secondary protagonist Ruth, a Doctor Who fan and introvert. Tiger Cowen-Towell is a quiet force throughout the production, demonstrating the clarity of Stef O’Driscoll’s direction. Despite differences, the pair of Ruth and Bex forms a viable companionship, helping to draw out and heal one another in touching ways only a sisterhood can. And despite their tensions and eventual parting, the residual influence of another woman’s connection leaves an impression.

But Ellerby’s writing doesn’t spurn men even with the tenacious misogyny and lad culture. And for all those who foolishly cry ‘not all men’, LIT serves as a reminder that it is ‘always men’. Josh Barrow, Keiron Hardcastle and Jim Pope play three different but evident forms of patriarchy; an enabler, a gas-lighter, and a father. Each perform their respective roles to the story’s narrative, with Barrow and Pope drawing on a more deep-cutting reality.

And if any aspect of the narrative or character choices feel predictable, one only needs to ask themselves why they find it so. Ellerby’s meticulously crafted writing and O’Driscoll’s brave direction at first leads the audience to make judgements. There is a refreshing perspective to forward the narrative and capture the heart of theatre’s semiotics and physical set pieces with LIT’s design. Lulu Tam’s design comprises wirework to emulate a caravan, bus stops and doorways, burning with a vibrancy of colour where needed, and in a particularly enlightening moment, the lighting ties directly to a harrowing visual piece of Bex’s actions.

The cinematic thought process has elements that the stage cannot capture, flickering camera angles and static energy to manifest a physical expression of Austin’s efficacious performance as Bex struggles, tying directly into the soundtrack of the production that so far has done a spectacular job of carrying the plot.

LIT comes with an age warning, a deserving one. Not for its visual nature, but for the intensity and undiluted reverence it has for those affected by sexual assault, failures in the system and Austin’s unquestionably mesmeric eruption of compelling turmoil and mortality. The ability to capture what happens to young people across the country today is encouraging and perhaps can offer some form of relief, understanding or at least recognition for those impacted and silenced.

Available here until 29 June 2021

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