by Degna Stone
World Premiere at Alphabetti Theatre 24 May 2023
What an enthralling piece of theatre. It sucks us into a personal crisis in a world of crisis to find something fresh and real. Alfred Hitchcock spoke of his films (art) as slices of cake rather than a slice of life and it occurs to me this is a very wonderful slice of cake indeed.
Our protagonist is played by the writer of the piece, Degna Stone. We meet her, a black woman and mother facing her worst fears for an important relationship and her story of blame and responsibility with that at a kitchen table. There she projects or is visited by three of the ‘white’ lies parents so often give to children (as she has) – the Easter Bunny, Santa and the Tooth Fairy. In an indirect way I thought of them a bit like Scrooge’s three ghosts in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. They enter into dialogue with her about what they are all about, what ‘it’ is all about and she thinks through what she is all about to herself. A process of truth, lies and not a little humour.
The set is strewn with old papers, a skew-whiff mirror or frame, the table and two chairs all papered with newsprint. As the piece went on I had an idea that that newsprint wrapped world was starting to look a bit like those old convict uniforms with arrows on. The Lies seemed to have formed a prison. Looking back I wonder about old news that was valid in some ways but has not moved with time, leading to crisis.
Initially I expected the story to address those papers and the big lies of our social, economic and political life. But it is far more subtle – they totally inform the environment it sits within – the play is much more personal. Whilst understanding how we are all in the midst of such lies it also starts to explore how the two are linked. A theme of the play seems to me how we project the world through the meanings we make and have made for us – and it was rather wonderful how projection was used to show us definitions of truth and the wider world. Those definitions set her and us on track to wonder at lies and what is true.
With everything I say about this play it feels like tinkering with the insides of something fine that I may not do justice to. It deserves poetry.
As a writer I always find it brave when writers perform their work and Degna Stone did a great job. It’s a very serious situation to face our worst fears as our lead does. In some ways this emotional space she is in was the most striking aspect of the piece. Anxious, low, self blaming, a very bare place indeed. This is very much highlighted by the zany energy of her first visitor, the Easter Bunny (played by Luca Rutherford, as are the other characters we meet). For me the emotional space we find our lead in is part of what the play examines and its relationship to lies, or to the certainty given to things.
The three visitors each have their own energy that brings about an interplay with the energy of this woman facing defeat. There seemed a complex to and fro that excited drama. There is the detail of their arguments but also for me this dance of energy which is so powerful. Luca Rutherford embodied them wonderfully. Santa is in a very different space himself (his shadow?) and this also brings something different from our protagonist (and I enjoyed the references to some local landmarks and cultural ‘highlights’). The Tooth Fairy (truth fairy?) seemed a fitting culmination, my favourite, who seemed to feel liberated to leave not silver but gold in the discussion.
It occurs to me that these encounters offer rich prospects to actors to have fun – and I wondered if the performers may be tempted play a little with that as they go through performances. But it also occurs to me that there may be a discipline to keeping them with boundaries and that the part Degna plays is very carefully kept facing the fear she is, a hollow place that may lead her to see what is real.
The play seemed a journey for her but also for us as we also come to understand with her. I don’t want to give too much away. I’m sure it is a process that will bear close analysis and would look forward to seeing it again or reading it. It explores layers of an onion, no, of a person – and our protagonist is unflinching in examining them to get to some aspects of her experience of motherhood and also of race in a racist world. Aspects that may do much to inform the flavour of her fear, at the core of the personal. There are moments she stands, spotlight on her face and thinks things through. I am not sure I caught all the relevance of them. It seemed to me relevant to race and with respect to that I want to be cautious how I speak of them as I have not fully grasped it.
Such a potent and giving play. A journey into the consequences of what we tell ourselves, often veiled as true or needed to be true and yet which excludes aspects that may come back to haunt us – and insist on doing so. Whilst at the same time investigating how much substance it all has and that we may give it.
In some ways I found this character is very tough on herself and I wondered if that too may in part be a lie, a lie about forgiveness and judgement, a lie about reality. But maybe it is needed to face the lies and undoubtedly gets her somewhere – somewhere fresher perhaps in language and presence. Along the way we see how hard it is to convey complex understandings and situations in the rush of the day to day, especially to children. Not to mention how lacking many of our every day working bodges may be.
It’s a beautiful production and a play that deserves to be taken notice of by many. Congratulations and thanks to all involved. I recommend it to anyone wondering where they are in this world (who doesn’t?).
Title: The Lies
Dates: Wednesday 24th May – Saturday 3rd June 2023 (excluding Sundays, Mondays & 1st June)
Time: 7:30pm, 1:00pm Saturday matinees
Tickets: Pay What You Feel (24th – 27th May 2023)
£3-£15 (30th May – 3rd June 2023)
Running Time: 50 minutes
Age recommendation: 16+ (younger welcome on guidance from guardians)
Access: Captioned performance Wednesday 31st May 2023
Audio Described performance Friday 2nd June 2023
Relaxed performances each Saturday matinee.
Location: Alphabetti Theatre, St James’ Blvd, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4HP
Box Office Booking essential. Tickets range from Pay What You Feel to £15 and are available fromhttps://www.ticketsource.co.uk/alphabetti-theatre/the-lies/e-jeborx
Cast: Degna Stone (they/them)
Luca Rutherford (she/her)
Director: Matt Jamie (he/him)
Producer: Eilis McGowan (she/her)
Lighting Design: Chris Foley (he/him)
Set Design: Ali Pritchard (he/him)