Writer: Tom Jensen
Director: Simone Vause
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
In Tom Jensen’s new play his leading character Molly has hedgehogs on the brain, quite literally. Well, a hedgehog, somehow living inside her head with no idea how it got there or how it can be removed. It is an absurdist notion which Jensen seems to be using to comment on both our reactionary approach to the unexpected and an innate human need to nurture, but the play does little to explore either of those concepts in depth.
Running at just under an hour, Headhog has three inter-related story, that of Molly and the growing attachment to the creature that has burrowed into her mind, it’s effect on her once solid relationship with boyfriend Jason and a subplot in which Molly’s father Stan falls for brain surgeon Dr Finch all of which contribute to Molly’s journey of self-discovery.
While Jensen’s idea is a good one, with considerable possibility for comic elaboration, the rather domestic storyline relies heavily on creating enough investment in the characters to sustain the audience’s interest in its implausible set-up. Stan and Doctor Finch are too lightly sketched to really justify the considerable time given to a romantic storyline that adds little to the overarching message, while both Molly and Jason are really difficult to like.
Natasha Zierhofer as Molly pitches her entire performance at one level, a continuous torrent of outrage and frustration that is less than endearing and often rather stilted. The play never takes the time to establish who Molly is and why the audience should care about her, so her continual anxiety and rather too rapid change of heart is never fully explained or allowed to slowly emerge during the story.
Similarly, Oliver Malam performs well as Jason but there is nothing about the character that makes sense of their initial relationship. He is self-absorbed, condescending and dismissive from the start, and while his trajectory is a useful counterpoint to Molly’s, exploring the negativity and blind fear that her condition evokes, if Jason were more sympathetic at the start his failure would be all the more impactful.
There is a potentially interesting father-daughter relationship which Mike Kelson’s performance as Stan hints at, a single father left to raise a fairly ungrateful daughter and the absence of a mother-figure that might explain her attachment to the hedgehog, which could be better explored. But Sheila McCabe makes for an unconvincing brain surgeon, a (possibly deliberate) slow delivery and scatty manner make it unclear what effect she is going for in an otherwise straight performance.
The tone needs to be just so to balance absurdist concepts in a traditional narrative structure, and Headhog is not quite there yet. A dream-like discussion scene with an ecologist and a welsh philosopher who circle Molly barely makes sense, and most scenes end too abruptly. Whether Jensen has conservationist leanings to save all the hedgehogs or wants to make meaningful points about the complexity of human nature, Headhog needs to focus more on character in order to find its purpose.
Runs until: 17 February 2019 | Image: Contributed