Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
Ifeyinwa Frederick’s debut play is a brutally honest, devilishly funny account of millennial sisterhood and female sexuality with the power to make you laugh, cry and cringe.
The Hoes is the sisterhood catchphrase for a trio of black women bonded in friendship since school, now twenty-five and off to Ibiza in search of sun, sex and alcohol. From the outset, there’s a jolting directness in the friends’ conversations about sex with nothing off topic from masturbation, genital piercings to sex during periods rarely heard on stage—which makes you wonder why this feels daring because it’s commonplace girl-talk.
Frederick's characters are aspirational and smart. Oxford grads no less—we are told more than once. They are clear about what they want and hunt it down. Holiday plans revolve around morning cocktails and how many boys they can bed. There’s talk of vibrators as well as masturbation in the toilets at work to relieve the boredom of steady boyfriends and day jobs. Crude jokes come in thick and fast but are delivered alongside revealing truths, exactly how these conversations play out in real-time.
Endless gossipy chat alone could feel like hard work for an hour and a half, even if delivered with firecracker humour, but what makes this play so watchable is that these relationships are credible beyond the pastiche—the friends share laughs but also their fragilities and fears.
And then there’s the enviable wardrobe. Suitcases jammed with sparkly, seductive party outfits also used as currency for dares. So much time spent getting dressed and undressed—so comfortable in their bodies and in their own company as they engage in the ritualistic rigmarole of pre-party antics. Selfies snapping, dancing on the bed in underwear, swapping clothes, the pick me up tipples and the toilet all feature as part of this routine.
The toilet, in fact, features as a handy escape for the women to text in peace or hide emotions not yet ready to share with each other. It’s an important offside from the main pitch—a reflective place out of full gaze, while all other action takes place on giant bed bathed in Dolly Mixture pastel lights backed by the sounds of Ibiza with soundtrack designed by Duramaney Kamara.
The party can’t last forever though and, for all the quick-witted silver-tongued wisecracks, there is genuine pain hovering beneath the surface of these friendships, so it’s just a matter of time, perhaps too long coming in this play, before party girl façades crumble and deeper worries emerge—played out effortlessly by the cast.
Aretha Ayeh as Alex and Nicola Maisie Taylor as J are powerful performers ranging in scale from hyped-up party animals to adults with real gravitas, but it's Marième Diouf as Bim who is mesmerising, Medusa-like—bringing the very best out of the writing as she sways from forceful cajoling friend to a young woman lost, dealing with depression and anxiety.
Here, the drama picks up. Scenes of distress, notably the change in Bim’s behaviour, where she wails out like a caged animal, brings depth and emotion to the piece that might otherwise have felt somewhat lacking. Issues of mental health and casual rape are thrown into the frontline, but perhaps a little too late to fully absorb such largely important themes into the plot.
For a first play, though, Frederick’s voice is felt strongly through sharply tuned-in dialogue, delivering the hilarious japes with moments that mirror the deeper insecurities and aspirations of the millennial generation. As Fredericks says: “you can put three black women on stage and the play can resonate with a wider group of people if written with enough heart and feeling.”
And this it most certainly does. The play is painfully moving, triggered by that deep caring between the characters lurking behind the bravado. They spur each other on in sexual warfare but they are solid friends and their wellbeing comes first and foremost. You don’t have to be part of the millennial generation to relate to this. Short of wanting to join the gang, I for one tripped out of the theatre into the cold night warmed by the thought of female friendships and how close Fredericks’s characters come to representing sisterhood universally.
Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi