By Molly Knox
‘The Road to Huntsville’ by 12 South Theatre Company is a captivating one-woman play which explores a situation where a research project about women infatuated with criminals takes on a life of its own. This production is an excellent example of how effective it can be to tell dramatic stories in personal, unpretentious and straight from the heart ways. A fast-moving yet gentle story packed full of dynamic writing and staging, ‘The Road to Huntsville’ is must-see student theatre play.
Ellie McIntyre plays the idiosyncratic Steph: a cat-loving and quirky playwright, confused and caught up in fascination and pen-pal communication of the most unusual kind. McIntyre is a brilliant actor who gracefully interprets this character with ease, navigating the ebb and flow of her monologues with unique eloquence – homing in on the sickening, and grappling with the moral dilemmas of relationships with inmates, as well as incarceration and the death penalty in general.
At the beginning of the play, the dynamic of the audience as feeling lectured by Steph presenting her methodology and findings in a casual and intriguing manner feels authentic. As the plot progresses the audience relationship with Steph begins to take on a less informative role, as she confides to herself and us, and displays the intimacies of her life and relationships, sitting perched on table-tops or among scattered letters on the floor. The off-hand comedic tangents wedged between serious and tragic themes are acted with style and respect, and McIntyre’s characterisation feels real, likeable and wistful.
Moments which incorporate stylised movement are gorgeous but feel like they could have been more frequent without detraction from the naturalistic speech. It cannot be stressed enough how intentional the exploration of very serious themes such as the death penalty are handled, and it’s fantastic how the production manages to capture a stunning mundanity to the extraordinary and macabre.
The script is the bread and butter of the play; funny, raw and powerfully compelling at every twist and turn of McIntyre’s delivery. The “I Feel” section of dialogue is terrific – and the conclusions which Steph draws are often poetic and tied oddly to real world situations, building an endearing quality to the character. Direction and production are surely the cherry on top of this piece. The projection at the back of the stage is a lovely touch and convey a sense of scrapbook project which is pulled together by the story – from email or text chains, snaps of Steph and her (very cute) cat, to screenshots of prisoner dating site profiles. This aspect of the production adds much to the overall message and flow.
Although most of the production is relatively slick, there are a few technical mishaps worth noting. However, none too serious. There are issues with sound when featuring snippets of other actors on the projection, and a couple bumps along the way with set, but it’s not hard to imagine that in a non-remote situation another run-through of the piece would have those issues down pat in no time at all.
Flushes of blue lighting against waves, accompanied by McIntyre’s gripping and emotive monologue towards the end of ‘The Road to Huntsville’ are lush, as is the subtilty and glow of bright and dim lighting throughout. However, sound effects and music are aspects it would have been nice to see utilised more and could’ve made for interesting devices in exploring themes.
Overall, this is a play that delivers an exceptional hour of moments which hang in the air and punch you in the gut, then make you chuckle a moment later. Exploring obsession and right from wrong, ‘Hunstville’ feels far from preachy; a fascinating conversation down a rabbit hole of desperation and cat jokes inviting you to question exploitation and the taboo.
Images: 12 South Theatre Company