little scratch

Rebecca Watson, adapted for the stage by Miriam Battye
New Diorama

Eve Ponsonby, Eleanor Henderson, Rebekah Murrell and Ragevan Vasan Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Eve Ponsonby, Eleanor Henderson, Rebekah Murrell and Ragevan Vasan Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Eleanor Henderson & Rebekah Murrell Credit: Ellie Kurttz

The experience of shock, a sudden disturbing incident or trauma can reshape the way people think, and the way they behave. Thoughts are not always directly focused on the trauma itself, they can be displaced, repressed or deliberately sidetracked. It can even be difficult to focus on anything in particular.

We hear something of these responses to trauma as we spend a day in the mind of the unnamed woman in the hundred-minute theatrical production of Rebecca Watson’s novel little scratch which was first performed at Hampstead Theatre downstairs in 2021.

She wakes for "the day thing, the work thing, disentangling from my duvet thing," looks at her face in the mirror and the blood under her nails. She brushes her teeth and travels to the office, debating whether to tell her boyfriend what happened.

At work, she is struck by the notices against bullying and other management notices against sexual harassment even as the boss who raped her wanders over.

She scratches at a scab on her leg drawing blood. She wonders if she should tell her boyfriend that day, though she reflects that she wasn't killed.

After work, she cycles to a poetry event, though keeping her mind on the event is hard.

The monologue, directed by Katie Mitchell, is spoken facing the audience at the four standing microphones by Rebekah Murrell, Eve Ponsonby, Eleanor Henderson and Ragevan Vasan. There is no physical aspect to their performance. They barely move from their microphones. It's as if they are in a radio studio with a couple of tables placed between them carrying glasses, bowls and brushes to help with sound effects.

They will sometimes interrupt each other, even finish off something another actor has begun to say. It is remarkable that actors can remember their lines given that the words and phrases they speak often feel random and disconnected.

The mind's journey through the day is the only real narrative structure we can follow. The circumstances of the rape are never revealed, the event itself only finds its way into the monologue in the odd word or phrase and occasionally just indirectly as something she might tell her boyfriend.

Although we hear from a survey that half of the women in workplaces have experienced harassment, the issues of workplace abuse and rape seem remote. Where a reader of the original book might pause to reflect and understand the apparent chaotic flow of words on a page, the stage production shifts the audience's attention to form over any serious issue and often leaves them distracted by the difficulty of following the stream of seemingly disconnected words. That might make for an interesting experimental spectacle but it doesn't help us understand the consequences of sexual abuse or do anything about it.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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