DramaLondonReviewVAULT Festival

Notch – Vault Festival, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

 Writer: Danaja Wass

Director: Madeleine Moore

Unrequited love can make people do incredibly foolish things and the complexities of such relationships can be even harder to navigate in a country that’s not your own. Danaja Wass’ new play, produced by The Thelmas and running at the Vault Festival, rather bites off more than it can chew with a convoluted story of attraction, immigration and homelessness in Ireland’s capital city.

Arriving in Dublin, the unnamed protagonist gets a job at a supermarket where she falls for fellow assistant Margaret who she follows to Saturday club nights. When she loses her job, the narrator engineers an offer from Margaret to move in with disastrous results, all of which is interspersed with memories or flash-forwards of being homeless and determined to get her life back.

Wass’ 55-minute play is a bit of a puzzle, one that entertains a number of narrative strands that mix straight-forward drama, internal dream and inner monologue sequences and the layering of different aspects of what we assume is the same story. There are graphic and intense descriptions of being attacked in a hostel by a group of drunk English lads while the dismissive receptionist looks the other way, which create a sense of the vulnerability of this young woman living away from home.

Some of Notch’s most interesting moments are all but thrown away including a suggestion that the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s encouraged young people to move away and a seemingly important encounter with a dispossessed man at the bus station whose dishevelled appearance and absent manner motivates the heroine to reclaim her position in society, sequences which need to be explored in much greater detail to really understand the motivation of this character.

Most of the play seems inexplicably focused on a slightly disturbing attraction to Margaret – whose face appears on a TV screen – that becomes increasingly perplexing. In the middle of the play, Wass’ lead character commits a violating sexual act on the sleeping Margaret but the effect of this is frustratingly underplayed, even trivialised in order to return audience sympathies to the protagonist who, after a melodramatic scene in a Macdonald’s toilet, is given a positive ending.

It may not be the intention of the play, but this involves the rape of a woman who was not conscious and could not consent. If the perpetrator had been male, the way both characters are subsequently treated would be rather different. The casual treatment of what follows and how Margaret is lightly mocked is disturbing. Waas spins this to the audience as the rash act of a fool in love, but that could have been achieved by a rejected kiss or similar: once sexual violation is introduced, the shutters come down and its game over for the character, the audience cannot feel sympathy for her and the rest of the play fails to satisfactorily address this inexplicable choice.

Aside from this, there is so much happening in Notch that overall narrative and thematic clarity is lost in the barrage of information. Wass writes lyrically at times but it’s hard to keep track of the timeline, and some of wackier production decisions including the fuzzy footage of rolling daytime TV that runs in the background to no clear effect. There is an important story in here about adapting to a foreign land and how that is compounded by homelessness, but the troubling unrequited love angle crosses a line that proves impossible to recover from.

Runs until 23 February 2020

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Troubling

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