The Thelmas return to the Vault Festival with Danaja Wass’s written and performed Notch. Notch is brutal look at mental health, homelessness and sexuality in 21st century Dublin. The woman, from an unnamed former Yugoslavian country, deals with racism and poverty as she negotiates living in a strange land and her own thoughts and feelings.
Croatian writer/actor Danaja Wass draws on her own experiences of a capital that has become increasingly polarized and daunting for people who are seen as foreign, inadequate, alien or simply ‘other’. As theatre has struggled to keep up with the issues faced by Brexit Wass’s look at being a foreigner in a country that is proud of its EU membership is refreshing. Her character becomes hardened to the casual and outright racism she faces, taking on a Dublin accent, struggling to find friends and love and dealing with her own mental illness that leads to shame, regret and homelessness.
My main criticism of The Thelmas’ earlier work at the Vault Festival, Santi and Naz, that it felt too safe struggling to tackle the issues of politics and sexuality. In Notch this work feels unsafe; from working with a Croatian writer and touching on the Balkans War of the early nineties that shaped and created trauma in the character’s childhood to graphic depictions of sexual assault and violence, the tv screen backdrop showing Ireland’s version of This Morning (which is on in the afternoon), to flashbacks of the woman she loved and lost and images of the war. Wass’s performance is extraordinary, presenting a damaged person who does damaging things with warmth and sympathy. It doesn’t shy away from humour, from anger and from upset with Madeleine Moore’s direction ensuring that even with the distractions from the screen we focused purely on Wass, with a brief interlude from Evelyn Lockley on screen as the woman she loved.
It is a dark piece of theatre but in keeping with The Thelmas remit to provide disruptive narratives. It makes you think, about the next homeless person you see, about why people do destructive things. It is an exceptional piece of work from Wass and Moore, I hope it develops and has the success of Ladykiller.
Notch is on until 23rd February at the Vault Festival. Tickets from £14