Sam H Freeman
Theatre Renegade
Southwark Playhouse (The Little)

Jade Ogugua, Lucy Kilpatrick, Asha Reid and Heida Reed Credit: Richard Lakos
Heida Reed and Lucy Kilpatrick Credit: Richard Lakos
Lucy Kilpatrick and Asha Reid Credit: Richard Lakos

In the middle of Southwark’s black box studio, four young women lounge in their lingerie on a black box in the soft glow of a line of red neon that surrounds them.

On three sides, set into the audience seating, are raised rostra marked out by rectangles of white neon above them, a mixture of glamour and sleazy. Where are we? A lap-dance dive?

No. It‘s Scarlet’s bedroom (and wherever else her story takes us). Those four girls are really just one, four voices inside the same head, often contending but at first just trying to remember the men she has slept with.

Between them, they come up with names for thirty (plus one woman). Despite leather hot pants and sexy undress, this isn’t titillatory, nor a critique of sexual licence: it is about what happens when what should be private is made public.

Scarlet explores how, with today’s social media, not just gossip but images and recordings can go viral and the consequences: a text sent out to contradict a rumour and then an embarrassing video of Scarlet, drunk at a party with a group of boys.

The complex and long-lasting repercussions provide the storyline but it is the way in which director Joe Hufton uses the space and presents the quadripart characterisation of Scarlet that gives this production its theatrical impact enabling Lucy Patrick, Jade Ogugua, and Asha Reid to hold the audience with their intense performances of very different personalities that blend, overlap and intercut with perfect timing.

Heida Reed is that part of her personality that tries to stay cool (and rather posh), though cracking under crisis, Asha Reid impulsive (and north-country with it), Jade Ogugua, a Scarlet who seems up for anything, while Lucy Kilpatrick presents a less pushy personality, more easily overruled by the others.

These four not only work beautifully together but play all the other characters too. Sometimes it's for a momentary lesbian snog, sometimes a sustained characterisation like Asha Reid as the “best friend” whose thoughtless texting starts the mayhem, and especially Lucy Kilpatrick as the gruff and gormless lad whom Scarlet gives a charity blow job.

Scarlet may not be saying anything particularly new with its inherent warnings about irresponsible behaviour and the risks and distortions to which one can be exposed, but it says it with theatrical panache that is both dramatic and entertaining for, however serious its intention, it is often very funny.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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