By Carmel Shortall
Polo and Twitch are twins. Twitch is the surprise, nearly left behind and emerging “bawling and bloody” after calm Polo. But “there was only supposed to be one”, as only one heartbeat was detected in utero and, indeed, they have only one heart between them. It becomes Twitch’s as Polo symbolically pours his half-empty glass of water into her half-full one and she drinks the lot in a single gulp.
Polo, the twin with a hole (in his heart!), has returned after a year’s absence for their 25th birthday celebrations. He has no time for love but Twitch, despite limited sexual experience, has loved too much through successive kindergarten, school and college infatuations. Polo narrates as Twitch, in the first of a series of flashbacks, literally superglues her hand to little Jimmy’s when he tries to leave after playtime. By the time they are separated, Jimmy will be scarred for life. Twitch smiles: he’ll never forget her now. Teenage Nick gets an unlooked-for tattoo when Twitch somehow sticks a pen in his arm and, at University, Peter Harris scalds his foot in the bath after cheating on her. So when handsome American, Billy, whom she meets on the beach says he’s leaving the next day and Twitch proposes a midnight swim, it can’t possibly turn out well…
Jacks, their friend, is also at odds with Twitch. Sex without love is “freedom” for her. She’s disgusted by her mother who is still “blubbing” a year after Jacks’ father left. At one point Jacks and Twitch are both onstage. They take turns narrating contrasting sexual encounters – Twitch’s romantic liaison with Billy on the beach and Jack’s nameless fuck with “toilet boy” in the loo at a nightclub.
“Hot Mess focuses on the dialectic between those that love and those that fuck” writes Ella Hickson in the author’s note to the text of the play. She says it was written in response to a series of interviews and conversations she had with girls and young women in 2010 and observes that, “we are more connected than ever and yet each connection means less.”
Originally designed to be performed in the round at a nightclub, the play has been adapted for a simple black box stage by Vernal Theatre Company, formed earlier this year by co-directors and producers Julian Bruton and Kieran Rogers. Able technical support is provided by Jay Rogers and Jay Patel.
The play opens as the sound of the sea is interspersed with She Said by Plan B. The stage is decorated with pebbles and as Katrina Allen playing Twitch arranges them in a straight line, she picks up the song in a clear, sweet voice. The song forms a motif throughout the play and there’s a forlorn poetry in her speeches to the audience on sex and love.
By contrast, Natalia Titcomb as Jacks is brashly extrovert as she screams onto the stage. Gareth Balai plays Billy, her erstwhile lover – and all of Twitch’s! Timothy Renouf as Polo is muted and wry: ever the observer, he encourages Jacks in her excesses and provides a commentary on Twitch. But it is his twin he loves – he has given her his heart after all – and the play ends as they hug to the eternal sound of the sea.
An ideal play for twenty-somethings, Hot Mess continues its Camden Fringe run at The Lion and Unicorn, 42-44 Gaisford Road in Kentish Town from Wednesday 23rd to Saturday 26th August at 7.45 pm. (Running time 75 minutes). Click here for tickets and more information.