REVIEW: Something Awful (Vaults Festival) ★★★
Amongst the hordes of shows taking place as part of the Vaults Festival is ‘Something Awful’ – a short play exploring young women coming of age and blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.
Jel and Soph are 13-year-old best friends, who spend their time reading scary stories in an online chat room.
New girl Ellie joins the group but she is already a fantasist who lies for attention. As they explore deeper in the online world, they begin to believe that they have crossed into reality and if they can no longer tell the difference, what might the consequences be.
Tatty Hennessy’s play is inspired by the 2014 ‘Slender man’ stabbing in Wisconsin, but it cuts across the real Crime and Horror genres with a comedic take on childhood relationships. However, it does one of these genres a lot more credit than the other one.
As a coming-of-age story of girls exploring their future role as women, it is genuinely funny, using their innocence to take down the tenets of adulthood with sharply observed humour. As the relationships alter and change there is a dynamic that many will recognise, the intensity of childhood friendships can seem bizarre when considered from a distance. However, as a horror or something creepy the play misses the mark. None of the chat room stories offer anything particularly challenging, and whenever any tension is built it is immediately undercut by a joke or glib remark.
The unusual space in the Cavern, an old railway arch, offers both opportunities and challenges. The space is damp, dark and creepy in itself but is in stark contrast to the scary forest explored in the story. Sam Glossop’s sound and Holly Ellis’ lighting design do their best to set the mood but it does not help that the cast have to bellow periodically over the noise from trains above. Director Lucy Jane Atkinson keeps the pace moving along, so the hour-long running-time flies by, but on occasion there might have been options to slow things down and give the cast more time.
The young cast do well with the material; Monica Anne is excellent as the geeky Soph, Natalya Martin shows good comic timing as the innocent Jel and Melissa Parker brings a powerful earnestness at critical moments.
As a comedy about girls on the verge of becoming young women there is a lot to like in this play but as something to give the audience chills this is sadly a disappointment.
Reviewed by Kris Witherington
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli