Review: Lit by Sophie Ellerby. Neville Studio. Nottingham Playhouse.

Bex (Eve Austin) is fifteen years old, full of life and almost too young to be buzzing with a youthful and overly wilful calculated sexuality that she naively uses to attract men for what she believes is love in return. She thinks her allure makes her the one in control. Some might describe her as a wild child, a temperamentally unpredictable personality, tossing her adolescent body and blonde hair in unbridled abandonment to the pounding music anthem of her teenage years. She may be mouthy and blind to the help that is being offered her by her foster mother Sylvia (Maxine Finch). She may be totally incautious in dealings with her relationships with her male school friend Dillon (Josh Barrow) and his older bullying and manipulating brother Lee (Keiran Hardcastle). Bex may repel all that get to know the brash surface of her defiant personality that is all self defensive and outward bravura and yet her new, and very unlikely bookish friend Ruth, (Tiger Cohen Towell) and Ruth’s father Mark (Jim Pope) may offer some salvation to a young person who is actually very vulnerable. Only time will tell.

Playwright Sophie Ellerby’s tactic in bookending her one act play with scenes showing Bex strongly emoting about parting with her newborn baby gives us the essential dramatic key to seeing Bex in much more than one sulky shouty pouty dimension. And so, this top quality theatre writing, where each character has multiple, gradually exposed, strands to their personality and motivations echoing the reality of human beings off stage, makes us attend to the Lit story unfolding and seriously consider the central theme of sexual consent and its actual and potential abuses. For a début play which tackles provocative societal questions in a very human way this work is, as Bex might say ‘Some f*cking hot sh*t of a play-yah!’ This reviewer can hardly wait to see what comes next from this local talent’s future plays; plays that will hopefully put Ellerby in the same female Nottinghamshire playwrights league as Amanda Whittington and Jane Upton.

Eve Austin’s central performance as Bex is breathtakingly brilliant. Austin wrings every emotional nuance out of the work yet keeps the drama well within the boundaries of a naturalistic drama suitable to a studio environment. She is funny, blisteringly sexually charged, coquettish, deservedly furious and craves our love in her vulnerabilities. If you have a daughter or know others who have teenage daughters and watching this play, your caring heart and soul will cry out “Don’t do it Bex!” Austin’s outstanding performance is one that, and please excuse our crude metaphor, frequently grabs one by the proverbial balls.

Director Stef O’Driscoll cleverly illustrates each new scene with a mobile stencilled titling and the changing of the wiry neon lit set is done with great invention and aplomb by the entire cast so that not a single moment is wasted in the fast moving production. The whole design effect is darkly and visually poetic and created by designer/scenographer Minglu Wang. The Lit set could almost be an art installation in its own right.

There are strong supporting performances from Josh Barrow as the sexually inexperienced Dillon and Kieran Hardcastle as his antagonistically opportunistic older brother Lee who hides his true insecurities about his relationship with his father behind a machismo stance, namely a – if I shout louder you will do what I say – aggressively bluff personality. This reviewer hesitates to say whether he has any redeeming qualities having known rather too many Lees in his life. Maxine Finch is deeply sympathetic as Sylvia, the foster mum who is dealing with her own traumas throughout the piece and Tiger Cohen Trowell comes into her own, in acting terms, when forced out of her own comfort zone in a drug taking influenced party in the caravan. Her father Mark is believably portrayed with a subtle confidence. The uncomfortable scene when Bex tries to seduce him finds Pope at his acting best.

Lit runs at Nottingham Playhouse Neville studio until Saturday 5th October. Grab it while you can.

Sophie Ellerby’s Lit script can be purchased through this Lit LINK.

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