By April Howard
Francesca Haydon-White’s play Hostage, produced by Sightline Theatre, tells the tale of Summer who, at 25, is looking back at her teenage self, confronting her issues with addiction, mental health and destructive habits. In the symbolic use of costuming, with older Summer wearing a chord skirt in the same colour as her younger self’s pinafore, we see the maroon thread between the two versions of Summer. This is also shown in the frequent use of mirroring which often creates powerful emotional moments. Both actresses, Jennifer Lafferty as the elder Summer and Matilda Hubble as the younger, are very capable, carrying their monologues very well, captivating the audience and exposing a raw emotionality in many places.
In the play’s opening, the writing is heartfelt and direct and, in this way, it is gripping, particularly in the transition from Summer’s denial to her acceptance of her status as an addict. The lacing in of references to popular culture in Summer’s recollections adds nostalgia and relatability, and the use of music successfully complements this mood.
As the play continues on, the writing occasionally slips into the realm of cliché, which can create a blockade between the audience and the emotion of the issues explored. At the beginning, Summer’s monologue’s directness and sincerity forms the essence of its appeal, but, as the play continues on, the use of hackneyed phrases (e.g. the idea of a person being ‘broken’) works against this. It is admittedly difficult to tackle these huge issues in dramatic form without slipping into this realm of vague phrasing and comfortable cliché.
The play is comprised of succinct, moving moments of introspection. Its dialogue reveals a woman looking back, with a combination of regret, self- pity and bitterness, at her younger self who was lead astray. The tone is often dark and gloomy, with few moments of brightness to cast a light, which can mean that it is taxing to engage with the performance. The beginning of the play captures the wonders of a new friendship, of mutual fascination, of platonic love that borders on the romantic or even the obsessive, but as the play unwinds this too is revealed to be a factor in Summer’s addiction and self- destruction as the plot twists and turns off in unexpected tangents.
It is sometimes unclear as to how exactly Summer’s eating disorder relates to her toxic friendship with an older girl, though it appears to be the cause to a great extent. The issue itself is thorny and tricky to navigate, and so it can never be wholly explored from only Summer’s point of view. It is clear to see that the friendship descends into co- dependency and obsession, and in this way the play surveys an often ignored facet of the addictive personality: a tendency to obsess over people as well as substances or sensations. Haydon – White’s layering of the factual with the lived experience of issues of addiction and mental disorders creates a vivid and multi – dimensional look at these troubles.
The simplistic set is utilised impressively. The boxes on which the girls sit become the scales onto which Summer obsessively steps. The chaos on the stage floor heightens as the play unravels. Photos scatter the ground. Boxes are placed on top of each other and are covered by a blanket to shelter the young Summer, before being taken down by the elder.
In the move to an online medium, the crew of Hostage exhibit their ability, and the ability of theatre writ large, in overcoming and adapting to any sort of challenge that may arise, including a global pandemic. The move from stage to online is mostly seamless with few technical issues, and so the technical directors Emily Rose Jupe and James Goodall, as well as videographer Peter Firbank and editor Olivia Swain, ought to be congratulated.
Hostage is an interesting delve into the psyche of young woman coming to terms with the struggles that mar her past and it is a good watch for anyone craving the connection and drama of theatre during a time in which they have had to close their doors. It is available to stream until 8pm on the 22nd of November.
Image: Taken from the Sightline Facebook page