Image Description: Show picture from She Felt Fear.
A student play with spoken word poetry and a ukulele? She may have Felt Fear, but I definitely felt a small amount of trepidation waiting in the theatre lobby.
She Felt Fear follows the life of Katherine, an overachieving, perfectionist student whose unrelenting and desperate ambition is too well articulated to not carry the shadow of autobiographical experience. Her character is uncomfortably relatable and the impressive physical acting of Juliette Imbert forces audiences to see themselves in her frantic movements and nervous tics. Although by the end, the appealing realism of the play is somewhat lost in the theatrical and expressionist sequence towards the end. Whilst it was highly emotive, for me it fell over the line of subtlety. The characters are easy to relate to, though less easy to like. However, the dynamic chemistry between the actors allowed the narrative to flow coherently through the pain and anguish of this coming of age story.
We are ushered through the play’s events through the omniscient observations of the Narrator, played by Emma Starbuck, who conveyed both bemusement and pity at the protagonist’s actions quite well, despite their seemingly neutral character and limited scripted capacity for expression. Contrasting with this gently muted character is Peter, the childhood friend who suffers from an unrequited love. The character is marvellously portrayed by Jules Upson.
In one of our first meetings with Peter, he is drunk at a party. Shouting and slurring over generic pop music, he embodied both our own worst nightmares of our intoxicated selves, and the friend we all know too well: obnoxious, clumsy, and likely to be carried home. Beyond his caricatured persona, which elicited laughs throughout, Jules’ talented performance made us sympathise with Peter, cringe at him, and at one point, slightly fear him. A sadly recognisable scene plays out, in which Peter’s initially sweet and demure crush on his childhood friend Katherine boils into an explosion of rage at her disinterest. The pity we feel for him at his clumsy attempt to declare his unrequited love, drunk and drowned out by overbearing music, is replaced by the inherent wariness of a man spurned.
Another poignant set of interactions are seen on the first date between Katherine (Juliette) and Lily (Bethan Draycott). Having already seen Bethan perform in Songs of the Silenced, I knew her acting would not disappoint. Both actresses embodied the shyness and innocence of first love, awkward hands, subtle glances and rushed words. A portrayal of queer romance that forces our protagonists into a painful love triangle with no winners.
Despite some perhaps melodramatic scenes, including Peter’s sudden death which felt like a bit of a cheap way to hammer home the play’s overall message, Kirsty Miles’ writing was an eloquent exploration of friendship, love and mental health. The courage of writing such a vulnerable character as Katherine must be commended, and the blended use of poetry, dialogue and music immersed audiences into the inner beings of the characters and made the rawness of their young troubles so much more poignant.
Image Credits: Photo credit to Aaron Hammond Duncan.