Writer: Florence Espeut-Nickless
Directors: Rachel Lambert and Elle White
A digital play with autobiographical roots, Destiny is written and performed by Chippenham artist, Florence Espeut-Nickless. Told through a monologue, the story of 16-year-old Destiny begins at Karma nightclub, as she waits for her best friend Gem. The drinks are being downed (50p Smirnoff Ices). She catches the eye of “Topless Tyrone” Miller, the hottest guy in town. What starts off as “MTV Base grinding” on the dance-floor ends in disaster. A chance encounter with two men (Destiny calls them ‘Pitbull’ and ‘Angry’) results in Destiny being assaulted, and Tyrone’s jaw broken in six places.
In the middle of the chaos (a court case follows and social workers get involved), there is also the future to consider. Destiny proudly tells us that she loves street dance, and is pretty good at it. She is referred to a careers service, where her advisor Rick steers her towards a performing arts course. These may seem big dreams for a girl living on a Wiltshire council estate, but Espeut-Nickless’ astutely-drawn persona challenges us to take Destiny seriously.
Beneath the perfectly-pitched references to 2000’s nostalgia, this is an intensely political play on cause and effect. Destiny’s monologue drops in several notes about funding cuts: Chippenham has a maternity unit but no A&E. You’re welcome to be born there, but if you’re dying, think better of it. This hacking away at the bottom line has a direct impact on Destiny’s community.
A lack of youth facilities fuels a drinking culture. The insistence of underage girls latching onto older boys speaks of a lack of ambition. Status is gained through a complex maze of sexual favours (but not too many as that gets a girl a reputation, different rules for boys, naturally). When Destiny tells us about her plans to become a back-up dancer, like the ones she sees on MTV Base, we may think it’s audacious, head-in-the-clouds stuff. But then again, she has no other template for success. Her teachers spot in Destiny a raw talent for dance, so why not aim for the stars?
Florence Espeut-Nickless absolutely nails the characterful stance of this working-class girl. The emphasis on body language – we see Destiny frontin’ as well as her more unguarded moments – tells us even more about the kind of environment Destiny has had to navigate. There is, underneath Destiny’s swagger, a naivety which makes the exploitation she faces all the harder to watch. Espeut-Nickless’ wide-eyed portrayal is subtle and layered; at odds with the cliché of a sink-estate teenager. She gives Destiny a respect and dignity the character struggles to find in her own life. Even at the Crown Court, where she tells the truth about her assault, she is dismissed as an “unreliable witness”.
Representing people often unseen and unheard, Espeut-Nickless’ insider knowledge gives us a more sharply defined context. She insists that instead of criticising Destiny’s choices, we should look outwards. In giving Destiny a voice, the play shines an unforgiving light on the fallibility of authority, and the abuses of power.
Available here for free until 5 October 2023