Writer: Nessah Muthy
Director: Steven Atkinson
Reviewer: Clare Boswell
Heroine by Nessah Muthy is a play with a strong political message. Centred around ex-soldier Grace (Asmara Gabrielle), Heroine turns the tables on the Radical-Islam question. It asks it’s audience to consider whether it is right, or indeed conducive within a progressive society, to shut down dialogue on uncomfortable issues, brandishing all who broach these as far-right fascists. In the wake of Brexit and the US Presidential elections, this is an extremely pertinent, albeit controversial, question and on the whole Heroine tackles this effectively and intelligently.
Richard Kent’s set design superbly portrays the all-too recognisable local village hall where the politically minded women meet and Steven Atkinson’s sleight of hand direction is slick and gripping throughout. However, it is the performances of the five-strong female cast that really bring this production to life. Asmara Gabrielle is mesmerising as protagonist Grace and her journey from the shy and retiring newcomer to the rage-fuelled leader of the female mutineers is a joy to watch. Lucy Thackeray as Wendy brings some much needed lighter touches to this intense 90-minute piece and Wendy Morgan’s portrayal of Cheryl’s heart-breaking back-story packs an emotional punch.
There are some moments when the dialogue itself is a little glib and there is a sense of Muthy trying too hard to drive home her political message, sometimes at the expense of the realism of her characters. For instance, Maggie McCarthy’s’ beautifully nuanced portrayal of Beverly is smirched somewhat by her speech revolving around the ‘middle-class liberals’. Whilst this raises an incredibly important point, it feels a little unbelievable and contrived spoken by a character whose naivety and lack of cynicism is apparent throughout. However, the strength of the casts’ performances generally manages to gloss over some of the more heavy-handed sections of dialogue.
Heroine also succeeds where many new pieces of writing fails, in that it creates a particularly strong ending. Hannah Traylen really comes into her own in the final scene as Grace’s long-suffering half-sister Shelley. Beneath the swaggering exterior, Traylen paints a sensitive and vulnerable portrayal of this young girl, thrust into motherhood and torn between her principles and her love for the damaged Grace. The final few lines of dialogue are strikingly poignant, neatly tying in the multi-faceted relevance of the play’s title and essentially showcasing Muthy’s real strength as a writer; her ability to blend the political with the personal. The end result is both thought-provoking and emotionally evocative.
Runs until 4 November 2017 | Image: Alex Harvey-Brown