No, I haven’t replaced a play’s title with a dismissive assessment of its contents… Something Awful is the new piece from writer/director team Tatty Hennessy and Lucy Jane Atkinson, which is inspired by the true crime story of the ‘Slenderman’ and takes its name from the forum on which the story first surfaced. Produced by Flux Theatre, the play runs during the first week of this year’s VAULT Festival.
Soph and Jel spend their free time reading scary stories, but the balance is disturbed when new girl Ellie arrives at their school and starts showing an interest in their secret hobby. Despite Soph’s initial reluctance, the duo soon becomes a trio as they delve deeper and deeper into conspiracy theories and dark horror stories. One day, however, they’re forced into action as Ellie is adamant that she has seen the slow & purposeful axeman described in one of the tamer stories (she took a photo as proof); their comment gains popularity and triggers further responses as other people claim to have seen the man in the woods. When a local girl goes missing Soph and Ellie are convinced it was this man, but Jel is beginning to wonder how much of the truth Ellie has ever told them…
There is a lot of potential in this play, but it definitely feels like there is work to be done before it could be considered the finished article. For one thing, I’m not sure that the Cavern at The Vaults is the ideal venue; though it gives natural horror vibes as soon as you walk in, the typical traverse setup of the room is quite problematic for half of the room as the speaker is mostly facing the door. There are other sound issues that impact on the show, including the usual suspects that are the trains (they seem to have become louder since last year), and several sections of gabbled dialogue. Straining to hear has the unfortunate effect of dulling any tension that may have been building, which is even more important in a play like this.
The pacing isn’t quite there either, with some rather lengthy pauses and then a rush to finish things off. The tables probably don’t need to be moved as much as they are, especially as the ones being used seem quite cumbersome. It may have been a product of my being unable to properly get lost in the story, but it feels as though a few steps have been missed to reach the ending; you get a sense that there’s more that could be explored, and with a bit of tightening up in other areas it could be a very special piece.
The increasingly complex mystery that is the modern world is covered well here, from Jel’s mum trying to protect her by not letting her have a mobile phone or giving her sweets, to Ellie bullshitting her way through life to cover up her insecurities and secrets. Though Soph seems to be rather together for a 13-year-old (proud of her nerdery, delighting in horror & true crime), she still has the propensity to be vulnerable and subject to influence by her peers. The influence of the forum on the girls’ behaviour also makes for interesting viewing too, as it’s also representative of an increasing social media addiction and our apparent need for virtual validation.
It’s an intriguing blend, and an apt genre to utilise, but for me it’s not quite there yet. Along with the topical storyline, there are some great one-liners – so it’s entertaining as well as a thriller – and the cast of three (Natalya Martin, Monica Anne & Melissa Parker) have a believable chemistry as the teenage friends. I’ll be interested to see how this one develops.
My verdict? Full of potential but not quite the finished article yet – a timely blend of themes make for interesting viewing.
Something Awful runs at the VAULT Festival until 2 February 2020. Tickets are available online or from the box office.