Hot Mess

Hot Mess
Hawke + Hunter (Venue 347)
4 stars ****

IT’S TWO YEARS since Ella Hickson first exploded onto the festival scene with her magnificent monologue show Eight; and during that time, she has become recognised as one of Britain’s leading young playwrights.  Her latest Fringe project – staged in a basement club in Picardy Place – reflects familiar themes of twentysomething love and sex; but it’s presented with great skill and poise, in a beautifully-paced production that never flags, over a taut 90 minutes.

The story of Hot Mess concerns a crisis in the relationship between a brother and sister who struggle to let one another go, not least because the brother is a strange, celibate figure who finds physical relationships almost impossible.  She has stayed in the small island town where they grew up, he has been away in London; but when he returns to find her locked in a passionate love-affair with a good-looking summer visitor, he is filled with resentment and anger.  And then there is a fourth character, a cheerfully promiscuous island girl for whom sex is literally just play, a late-night, post-club form of recreation.

What’s most interesting about the play is its exploration – more hinted at than fully developed – of how the experience of sex can range from the completely meaningless to the dangerously overcharged, and the impossibly threatening.  The in-the-round staging is deft and atmospheric, and there are some wistful songs sung by Gwendolen Chatfield, in a thoughtful performance as the girl at the centre of the story.  In the end, though, the content of this play seems a little less satisfying than its form, and the story’s ending a shade out of time; even though the detail of the writing is often powerful, and sometimes downright memorable.

Joyce McMillan
Until 30 August


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