Watch: Hopelessly Devoted @ The Tricycle

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Missing Orange is the New Black? Well Hopelessly Devoted, which opened at the Tricycle Theatre on Monday, might just fill the gap. Set in a women's prison, the play is a Paines Plough and Birmingham Repertory Theatre production written by the amazingly talented Kate Tempest who I recently discovered through her show Brand New Ancients. While Hopelessly Devoted doesn't meet the incredibly high standard Tempest set with Ancients (I seriously had goosebumps all the way through that show), it is an emotive and thoughtful piece about the realities of prison, it's effect on the wider family and institutionalisation.

The central character is Chess (Cat Simons) who begins to face the reality of saying goodbye to her partner Serena (Gbemisola Ikumelo) at the same time she begins a prisoners music programme with Silver (Michelle Gayle) a formerly successful music producer, who is using the scheme as a chance to rediscover a love of music that was compromised through addiction.

A starkly simple stage with just a table to one side and a large screen at the back of the stage filled with boxes that are occasionally back lit, represents the prison and cells and allows for the actors to really tell the story unaided. Tales of domestic violence and a fear of leaving prison for the outside world when faced with little prospects are all explored as well as both Chess and Serena's experience of missing their children and the complicated procedures to get them back.

The simplicity and mutual support of the new relationship Chess and Serena have found with each other is one of the strong points of the play; the realisation that neither had ever felt like this before and Chess's terror at what it means for them when Serena does get released. Together they dance in their cell as if moving on a chess board and it is devastating to watch Chess try to recreate this dance on her own after Serena leaves.

I was pleased to note that the word 'lesbian' was not uttered once. This wasn't a comment on sexuality merely the telling of a loving relationship in complicated circumstances; all too often LGBT characters are 'framed' by their sexuality unnecessarily and I was pleased to see Tempest felt that surplus to the story.

Music is obviously a huge part of the play, from the characters singing lines from songs to each other constantly which made for a nice musical nostalgia to the actual music Chess makes with Silver in their session. I feel it is here that Tempest really shines, the language when used in lyrical form is the strongest and most emotive in the whole piece. Kate Tempest began as a spoken word artist and in Hopelessly Devoted the raw, vibrant performance of Simmons really brings her lyrics alive.

Towards the conclusion of the play, there is much about social networking sites like Facebook and sharing sites such as YouTube which jar slightly with the piece, but it does involve some nice projection onto the screen and spawns the lines:
"What's social media?"
"Like social services"
which received a huge laugh.

Cat Simmons was consistently strong as the central character Chess but her cockney/ghetto accent was overdone and grated after 5 minutes. Michelle Gayle was suitably earnest and just the right balance of sanctimonious and genuine as Silver but Gbemisola Ikumelo stole the show as Serena, playing her with such naturalistic ease and delivering the most well rounded, conflicted and yet still likeable character. She is one to watch, as is Stef O'Driscoll who co-directed with James Grieve. I've followed Stef O'Driscoll's career since seeing her direct 'Yard Gal' at the Oval House theatre years ago and the energy she brings to a piece is palpable. I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Shanika Says: Hopelessly Devoted is showing at the Tricycle until the 19th April, well worth getting down there for some musical and theatrical entertainment. Tickets range between £10 and £28 or only £11 if you're under 26!

All photos taken from The Tricycle Theatre Facebook page, all rights reserved by Paines Plough, photo credit Richard Davenport.

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