Monday, 7 April 2014

Theatre review: Hopelessly Devoted

My second play in a week about women in prison, although unlike in Pests the central character of Hopelessly Devoted is still inside, and likely to stay that way for some time. Chess (Cat Simmons) murdered her abusive husband, and in the years she's been in jail she's been denied access, or any kind of knowledge of, her daughter who would now be 13. What's helped her stay calm and out of despair is the arrival of cellmate Serena (Gbemisola Ikumelo,) with whom she regularly breaks into song, the pair eventually becoming a couple. But theft doesn't carry as long a sentence as murder and Serena's up for parole soon. Chess needs something else to get her through her sentence, and as author Kate Tempest is also a poet and rapper, it's perhaps not surprising that she offers music up as that alternative.

Chess has, somewhat grudgingly, signed up for a 12-week course writing and recording songs with visiting music producer Silver (Michelle Gayle.) Chess' highly personal songs end up getting a much bigger audience than she'd intended.

Simmons is always interesting to watch and makes an intense and complex lead here, also getting plenty of opportunity to show off her great voice. Although if someone in the vicinity really did have as frequent a tendency to burst into song as Chess I'd probably react in the same way as notoriously miserable fellow inmate Doreen (voiced by an offstage Gayle,) who's regularly to be heard demanding she shut up.

Chess and Serena's relationship is convincingly presented by Simmons and Ikumelo, and Silver is a bit more complex than a random do-gooder, with a backstory that reveals her as a recovering addict who used music herself as a form of therapy. Which means that, contrary to popular belief, your sweetness is not her only weakness - she's also quite partial to drugs.

The songs by Tempest and Dan Carey are powerful, but there still remains something unsatisfying about the show. I think it's that its trajectory is a bit too obvious - the publicity promises a show about a woman using music to face her past, and it delivers precisely that, no more, no less. It delivers it very well, and Simmons is a performer rightly getting lead roles now, but I didn't feel like I knew more coming out of the theatre than I did going in.

Hopelessly Devoted by Kate Tempest is booking until the 19th of April at the Tricycle Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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