Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Theatre review: Superhoe

It’s about time someone wrote a play about a really terrific gardening implement, but writer-performer Nicôle Lecky’s monologue Superhoe is about the other kind of hoe. She plays 24-year-old Sasha, living at home with her mother, half-sister and stepfather in East London and harbouring dreams of being a singer-songwriter and rapper. She’s written a lot of songs and spent an inheritance from her grandmother on recording them, but apart from regularly announcing on Instagram that her EP is about to drop she doesn’t actually seem to be trying to promote her music. Instead she spends her days passed out in her bedroom and her nights out with her long-term boyfriend or getting stoned. But when the boyfriend suddenly ghosts her – for reasons that are never revealed but can probably be inferred – she sets fire to his front garden.

The police coming round to question her is the last straw for her family, and when they move to Kent she’s informed she’s not invited to come with them. She sofa-surfs at a couple of dodgy friends’ houses until she meets a girl with a spare room, and a plan to capitalise on her Instagram audience.

I don’t think I’ve seen a mainstream theatre look at webcam sex since Teddy Ferrara at the Donmar, and this forms a major turning point in Superhoe, which starts largely comic and sinks progressively into darker places. There’s certainly more than a hint that things are going to take a serious turn even at the start, as alcohol- and drug-induced blackouts don’t seem to be an entirely unusual situation for Sasha, but it’s when she meets the manipulative Carly that things quickly spiral. Carly almost imperceptibly guides her from building a brand as an Instagram model, to becoming a sex worker online, to the real thing – with what she’s pushed into doing getting progressively more dangerous as the money increases, and Sasha not realising until very late that the person she thought was her flatmate is actually her pimp.

Chloe Lamford’s set is dominated by a cashpoint, its screen promising not just cash but personal fulfilment. Sasha’s journey into prostitution follows some patterns as old as the profession (and a late reveal of additional backstory is a bit clumsily handled and the play could probably have worked without it,) but the new factor here is the difference between reality and the online persona. What she projects on Instagram becomes first what gets her into sex work, and then the image she has to keep up to cover up how she really feels. The illusion becomes so effective she finds herself jealous of the woman she sees on Instagram, forgetting that it’s her.

Songs, composed by Lecky and The Last Skeptik, punctuate the story occasionally – they get sparser as Sasha’s real job pushes her dreams of working in music into the background. This is a really thought-provoking piece – it’s always hard not to wonder where certain “Instagram-famous” people get all their money but it’ll be even harder after this – but while Lecky takes us to a pretty bleak place director Jade Lewis keeps the energy going and a hint of the early humour always remains. It’s not often you see a play that seems to have found a completely new subject matter but Superhoe does so and makes for compelling viewing.

Superhoe by Nicôle Lecky is booking until the 16th of February at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs (returns and day tickets only.)

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Helen Murray.

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