SCARLET at The Southwark Playhouse - Theatre Review

Scarlet is in her second year at university. She is in a loving relationship with Daniel. She likes to go out and sometimes she gets drunk. She also likes sex. One morning she wakes up to find a video of her being sexually abused by several boys has appeared online. Her life and her spirit begin to crumble.

Scarlet started life as a 20 minute piece in Theatre Renegade’s Courting Drama sessions where ten handpicked writers and directors ‘speed date’ to find a new collaborative partner to help them bring a short piece of new writing to life. Since then Scarlet has been workshopped and developed by Theatre Renegade into an extraordinary full length play which tackles an upsetting subject with respect, empathy and humour. It is an exciting debut from Sam H. Freeman, and bodes great things for this highly perceptive writer.

The excellent ensemble cast of Lucy Kilpatrick, Jade Ogugua, Heida Reed and Asha Reid all play Scarlet. Scarlet herself also plays the other characters from the insecure and judgemental Sasha to the clumsy and dangerous Will et al. These are Scarlet’s interpretations and may be biased- yet they are all instantly recognisable, fully fleshed-out roles; not caricatures. The slick and pacy direction of Joe Hufton ensures the audience are always engaged and that the humour never misses a beat.

Scarlet’s environment is cleverly suggested through inventive use of the space together with simple yet effective lighting by Matt Leventhall and an excellent original score by Ed Burgon and Benji Huntrods.

This is an excellent collaborative production but the real strength is in the writing. The dialogue is sharp, insightful and natural. It veers from making you feel a sick sense of dread to a full-on belly laugh in a second. Almost all women can relate to Scarlet in some form or other and we like her as our heroine. In Act 2, the tragedy of Scarlet’s situation which she only partly acknowledges, is evident to the audience which makes it more upsetting. We can see her slowly falling apart, but she doesn’t. In her attempts to try to be strong, it only underlines her vulnerability more. And yet through all this, the piece is really funny. Her arriving at Daniel’s room and accidentally getting into a physical fight with Jenny is one particular laugh out loud moment from many. The scene where she meets Will again is genuinely disturbing with a real sense of danger- despite Will being played by the most petite member of the cast.

Often, plays that deal with sensitive or dark themes are ones that we don’t necessarily want to rush back to the theatre to see a second time. However, I would see Scarlet again without any qualms. Despite the subject matter the piece is fun and exciting and positive as well as being very moving and thought-provoking. I would highly recommend this production to a wide audience - and if any reader is auditioning for drama school next year and is looking for new and interesting speeches for women, buy the play!

Theatre Renegade has partnered on this production with The White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end men’s violence against women.

(c) Teri Levett 2015

Scarlet by Sam H Freeman is playing at 3:30pm and 8pm at The Southwark Playhouse until 9th May.

Theatre Renegade’s next Courting Drama session is on 26th April at The Southwark Playhouse at 5pm and 8pm

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