Little Scratch at New Diorama Theatre
Four microphones stand in a line. Voices – three female, one male – tumble onto the stage, an entangled inner monologue that splurges into the space. The audience has a 24-hour (95-minute) visitor pass in the unnamed heroine’s brain, and there is no such thing as Too Much Information.
Adapted by Miriam Battye, Rebecca Watson’s debut novel Little Scratch is auditory mayhem on-stage. The brain’s conflicting thoughts are represented physically: the static actors’ speech interjects, overlaps, repeats and contradicts in a captivating and exhausting cycle. Melanie Wilson’s score includes props to texturise the soundscape, enhancing the conflict between the physically banal and the mental overload. Teeth are brushed, tea is slurped and bowel movements are documented. There is the genuinely agonising struggle to get out of bed with an unexpected hangover; the absurdly engrossing analysis of one’s fellow commuters (“is book lady deliberately hiding the title?!”) combined with regular interjections of sexual fantasy (“does that man know that I am imagining my boyfriend’s cock right now?”).
It all feels relatable, invitingly frank, but the underlying fragments of panic build and bubble to the surface. The worry about the coming day feels more sinister than hangxiety, and we realise that the woman who this brain belongs to has been raped at the workplace to which she is en route. This is simultaneously shocking and simply a texture of the day, which includes a dreaded prawn chowder and the combination of sending cute texts to her boyfriend while taming the urge to check when said boyfriend was last active on WhatsApp.
We get to know a smart, bubbly, sexual woman who has had her agency ripped away from her by a man in a position of authority. It is a common story, and the character seems aware of its depressing predictability as she googles percentages of women assaulted at work – yet this exposé validates the complexities of her sexuality pre and post-assault. She reflects on discovering masturbation – “I did it so much, I didn’t blame the boys” – and navigates being raped by someone else while in a loving relationship: “Did I really switch from thinking about rape to fucking? I can and will.”
The staging allows for a candid plunge into the messiness of female experience, and human experience generally. The character and audience can think and feel five things at once while conveying none of these, or something entirely different.
Little Scratch is anything but small, and the power lies in what we hear but don’t see. The intense portrayal of the convergence of mental and physical anxiety is sometimes unbearable for the audience to imagine. It is innovative and raw: a thought-provoking portrayal of post-traumatic stress.
Finally, there is a moment of relief, as she glides on a bicycle after work behind her boyfriend. Three voices fall silent and the audience melts into the calm. There is beauty in the everyday, and hope that our heroine will allow herself to savour it.
Little Scratch is at New Diorama Theatre from 12th April until 13th May 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.