Heroine at The Mix, WalthamstowCultureTheatre
Nessa Muthy’s Heroine is a molotov cocktail of ideas, plucked from today’s headlines, with an ear for the screeds of Twitter and the chatter of community centre rooms. Its incendiary dialogue and plucky pace had the audience squirming, and the scope of its politics may be too broad and too dense for its brisk 90-minute running time, but the conversations it provokes will last far beyond.
Grace is back from Afghanistan, with a cluster of women close to her in equal measure cautious and celebratory of her tenure there. Seeking salvage in a local community centre for women, this quartet of embattled mothers, daughters and loners find their weekly bingo and therapy sessions interrupted. An extremist group has purchased the centre, leaving the four with mere weeks to rouse the community and the council in their favour. As they splinter into varying factions, their fight for the centre devolves into something more sinister.
None of the above can be gleaned from Heroine’s press materials. They offer the rather more generic: “Forced to question the very foundations of her beliefs, Grace finds herself back on the front line, but who is she fighting?” This does nothing to foreshadow the (at times very disturbing) rhetoric and arguments about racism, fascism and the oppression the play attempts to dissect. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see Muthy’s fearlessness at tackling the topics of the moment. While it’s extremely discomfiting to be plunged into the mindset of these women, their lived-in, world-weary performances add layers that wrestle violently with our sympathies. Their chants of “taking back control” and “keeping communities safe” are unnervingly familiar, and while explaining their actions may feel too close to “explaining them away”, Muthy’s motives are not so facile, as she attempts to show how messages can be manipulated, and how the charisma of group leaders can warp the senses and sensibility of many.
While Muthy’s multiple plot strands risk pushing the the play into soap opera territory (a subplot about Grace’s child and family backstory is shoehorned in intermittently, and in an unsubtle way), the performances elevate it beyond this. Tricky monologues land perfectly thanks to the naturalistic performances – a gut-wrenching one about one member’s transition from EDL member to community organiser is as enthralling as it is excruciating. Heroine is bold, incendiary writing, from a nascent talent who understands that the personal is political, and lays bare the chaos of a stark world – our own.
Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown
Heroine is at The Mix as part of the HighTide Festival 2017 Walthamstow from 27th September until 8th October 2017. For further information or to book visit the HighTide Festival website here.