Head-Rot Holiday at the Hope Theatre
Written in the early 1990s by Sarah Daniels and originally staged by Clean Break, a theatre company dedicated to giving voice to women in the criminal justice system, this first major revival of Head-Rot Holiday feels real and relevant. In 2018, mental health is being further addressed and acknowledged but the sense that certain voices in society remain muted is one of the many themes that resonates. Mental health charities and prison reform groups advised on the script and the authenticity is prevalent throughout. In a “secure hospital” for the criminally insane, Ruth, Claudia and Dee are preparing for the Christmas disco, seeing it as an opportunity to please the parole board and potentially gain early release. As well as learning about the lives of these three women, we meet numerous other characters including some of the hospital staff, who each have their own faults and fears.
Entering the small space, we find the actors immediately interacting with us, creating a sense that we are one of them, trapped in an unpredictable environment. The bare and bleak set only emphasises the idea of being imprisoned in a world of black and white rules, where only select voices are allowed to be heard. Will Maynard’s direction allows for a pacey production with moments of high-drama effortlessly easing into emotive monologues, which are enhanced by Chris McDonnell’s carefully considered lighting.
The script is elevated by the three exceptional performers, who each multi-roll, smoothly transitioning between characters and showcasing excellent range and ability alongside impressive onstage chemistry in the process. Amy McAllister commands many of the laughs as Irish inmate Dee as well as delivering some sombre scenes in her additional roles of Chris and Nurse Jackie. Evlyne Oyedokun as the new and naïve nurse, Sharon, enters the world of the hospital along with us and brings a sense of calm reflection in one of the more surreal scenes as an Angel, completely contrasting with her performance as “criminal” Claudia. Emily Tucker displays astounding versatility as she shifts from karaoke-obsessed Ruth, who resorts to using song lyrics when anxious and distressed, to strict and seasoned nurse Barbara. The quality of acting alone is enough of a reason to see this show.
This kind of invasive theatre is not for everyone but it’s the type of entertaining yet educational work that’s important to see. Those in search of something real, raw and reflective should admit themselves to the Hope Theatre and enjoy this rarely performed play.
Photo: Mark Overall
Head-Rot Holiday is at the Hope Theatre from 27th November until 22nd December 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.