Hear Me Howl, Vault Festival
Review by Melinda Haunton
Lydia Rynne’s monologue, performed with heart and verve by Alice Pitt-Carter in the role of Jess, could be summarised as ‘near-thirtysomething pregnancy scare comedy slash millennial midlife crisis’. It’s all true, but it’s so much less than this production actually has to offer. There’s post-punk drumming, there is a balanced but strongly pro-choice assessment of the merits of abortion in a particular scenario, there’s joy, and there’s a hell of a lot to make you think, long after the hour performance is over.
The plot pivots around a pregnancy, which sounds as if this is another heartwarming show about growing up. It’s theme, though, is being trapped. Pregnancy, if unwanted, is a pretty definitive trap, as is the guilt that comes along with not being sure it’s for you, despite being at the right point in your life (according to society, or at least the Daily Mail). But Jess is trapped by so much more in her life. Above all, by never having asked herself if she wants any of the things she’s acquired along the way to a conventional near-thirty adulthood. Did she want the reliable but boring job (paying more than minimum wage…just), or the flat with four walls and a roof, and just the one rat (way too many laughs at that line, which confirms London’s pest control is still a growth industry)? She probably didn’t.
Jess probably also didn’t want to get taken on as a drummer with zero experience and zero training (shades of The Fall are deliberate here I think), in a post-punk band (named, magnificently, Finrot), before she even knew what post-punk meant. But she does it, in the midst of her pregnancy worries. However tentatively she starts, there’s a power in what she finds, and freedom in making a noise, finding a rhythm, finding her voice, that rings true.
The drums are more than a gimmick. They act as the set, and as Pitt-Carter’s foil, whispering and percussing at sinister moments, symbolising a messaging alert or a shared panic attack. While not everyone’s sympathetic to the freedom Jess finds in drumming, her climactic drum solo feels cathartic for the whole room.
Although I loved the piece and the performance, I do have quibbles. I wish Jess didn’t instantly fall in with every part of the band’s right-on lifestyle. Going on a protest when you’ve no idea what you’re protesting is pretty much as sheeplike as the conventional adulting she is fleeing, and it made me feel that perhaps Jess’s new direction was just another role to play. I also wish her eventual decision wasn’t neatly confirmed by the verdict of a doctor ex machina. Rynne has had the guts to argue both sides of motherhood vs childfree life, and I wish Jess had been able to make her choice without that validation.
I should finish by saying the other great thing about this piece is that it’s properly funny. To the point where it’s a challenge to find a safe moment to swig your drink without choking. The themes are massive, but they are light touch, undercut, counterpointed all about with sharp observation on modern life and absurdities. Pitt-Carter almost clowns at moments, letting the laughter build with a shrug and a grimace at her own idiocy. But it’s never comedy at the expense of meaning, and that’s the part that’s stuck with me.
Runs until 3 February, tickets £15. https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/hear-me-howl/