Writer: Natasha Brotherdale Smith
Director: Jessica Millward
I Can’t Hear You is a familiar play about a queer couple navigating an unfriendly world.
Lucy and Ash meet at a call centre and soon hit it off. Over their almost year-long relationship, they fall in love, despite their clashing personalities and relationships with their own queerness. When they suffer a homophobic attack in a club, their differences are highlighted further, perhaps beyond salvation.
I Can’t Hear You promises a lot before it’s seen. ‘A thrillingly fast-paced piece of new writing’, ‘ A vital play that’s unique in both its storytelling and content’ and unfortunately falls flat in all of these. Although Natasha Brotherdale Smith’s writing is competent in its structure and pacing, it lacks any sense of style. Unfortunately, the one-dimensional characters and been-there script fail to set it apart from anything else we might expect to see.
As we learn more about the unremarkable pairing of Lucy and Ash, it feels as if the play is an opportunity for the playwright to journal, perhaps on their own experiences, perhaps on what it’s like to be in a WLW relationship in general. It fails to progress much further than this and does not bring anything new to the table in terms of form, style or content. The narrative lacks urgency and it is difficult to connect with underbaked characters. Both Zoë Birkbeck, who plays Ash, and Lydia Cashman, who plays Lucy, bring the same millennial cringe awkwardness to their characters which fails to develop into anything much more nuanced than that. The jokes are borrowed, the chemistry forced and neither actor, despite valiant if underdeveloped performances, is able to inject liveliness into the relationship that should have been the driving force behind the narrative.
The direction from Jessica Millward is confusing and inconsistent. Some props are clunky and unnecessary, some props are mimed and missing, and some fall somewhere in between. There are attempts at physical theatre and multi-rolling which never fully rear their heads. There are long transitions with loud set pieces and quiet repetitive music which breaks tension, and the production doesn’t commit to any one style. The set is sparse, seemingly cowering away from the non-linear narrative that takes place in many locations. There is a flight case that centres in many of the scenes that hinders more than it helps. The actors wrestle with it clunkily and it never arrives back in the same spot, despite denoting the same physical space as before. There seems to be a distinct lack of design in the lighting by Eliott Sheppard, and when it is there the actors never seem to find it. Unfortunately, there just isn’t anything very inventive about any aspect of the staging.
There are some tender and relatable moments, particularly the re-visited Brighton scene. This play may work in a short format if attention is paid to style, character and staging, but in general, I Can’t Hear You doesn’t say or do a lot.
Runs until 7 July 2022