On one end of the stage, a girl lies huddled on the floor. In another a couple hold hands in a vague show of affection. Working on a L-shaped stage, the cast of Let Your Hair Down shows an impressive versatility across the board, moving instantly into a complex world of realistic suffering or witty philosophy. There may be difficulties in understanding the abstract world of the latter, and the story focuses on a subject perhaps more relevant to women at large than Oxford students, but Let Your Hair Down certainly offers interesting insights that make the BT a captivating location in 8th week.
The play itself is carried by strong dialogue and powerful performances. Of the two ‘real-world’ heroines, one is struggling to conceive, whilst the other is aborting a pregnancy caused by rape. The themes of birth and pregnancy are at the forefront of the play, with a strong emphasis on mental illness. It’s a tough combination for an actress to explore, but Alice McCartney and Jay Jivani do a superb job. Whilst the former powerfully presents a woman hovering on the verge of delirium, the latter gives a riveting monologue on her ordeal that brings silence across the auditorium.
Emma Brand and Nathalie Wright face the even harder task of making human characters from a number (cast respectively as ‘45’ and ‘53’). However, they more than succeed: Wright captures a vibrant combination of frustration and tentative playfulness, whilst Brand’s opening monologue fully draws the audience into a new world. Albeit this is one they might struggle to understand: even in this mysterious otherworld the dialogue doesn’t fully make sense, with a few illogical jumps throughout the scenes. It’s only in the final scene that their suppressed narrative is revealed, enabling the women to become fully fleshed characters before their symbolic status is revealed.
The cast is strong across the board: after four weeks of rehearsal, they display a confidence with the script, space and one another that’s undoubtedly impressive. Throughout the preview the benefits of intensive rehearsal were evident: when the final elements of lighting, sound (the show boasts an original and unsettling score by Marco Galvani, composer for the National Youth Orchestra) and staging all come together, the result should be something very special. Get down to the BT in 8th week: there are performances too good to be missed.