Young Critics Review Lit

Though the EastEnders plot line has been done a million times before, never have I poured my heart out and reconsidered the meaning of teenage society.

Everything about this play was alarming “different” to your usual “easy watch “ play. From the quirky staging, which you notice as soon as you enter: tall, black metal rods ,filling the stage, stuck together with no clear pattern or balance, very abstract, designed by Minglu Wang. To the difference in mindset of the characters and largely how Bex, played by Eve Austin, thought she was so different to them.

She made herself think she was never cared for, yet the rest were given confidence in support to not have such weak mindsets, but the catastrophic events in Bex’s life almost showed that there is no reversing what’s already been done; her adoption. She treated this as her life punishment and failed to notice the good in her life.

We see this idea “feeling different” and “vulnerability” in the rawest, and most gripping scene. When Bex finds that her guardian “Sylvia”, played by Maxine Finch, could no longer look after her. The pain she showed was realistic and highly difficult to watch, directed amazingly by Steff O’Driscol. Bex had an internal struggle, asking herself “why can’t I be cared for? Is it others who have the problem or is it me”, “why do I have to be so different”. Throughout the play Bex is strongly purposed to stand out from the rest shown through firstly her clothing; bright, sharp colors which barely cover anything,. Secondly her prettiness and her large voice and of course, her rather upfront personality and confidence, “Got him to buy me a pack of Tangfastics and a can of Lilt before I showed him my tits.”, one of the best lines from the playwright Sophie Ellerby. Yet, what’s intriguing is the turning point in the play when her friend Ruth, played by Tiger Cohen-Towell, the good one, also shows she has personal issues, though different to Bex’s, it signifies everyone is different, but we are all normal for being different. This is shown when Bex’s sad events start to repeat themselves in her friends.

What was so different about this play was how the team made you come out to the play and think differently about society. Showing how they really did Brecht proud. It makes you long more for the comforts in life, that we are often given and take for granted. It highlights all in life that is good to you, and makes you think wisely about decisions which we often face every day in society today ; do you want to buy drugs? Fancy coming to this party? The only opportunities Bex ever really got offered. So why would she not take them?

As a thoroughly supported and comforted daughter, I just wanted to be back home at the end of this play, back in my comforts, but having stepped into a very different world for over 1hour and a half, it successfully made me want to help those Characters like Bex’s and made me rethink and grateful for my own choices I have made so far in my life. Though everyone is different this play highlights how we must be considerate towards others and the stories they hold, as well as safeguarding our own.

Betsey Bircumshaw

LIT is by Nottingham writer and actor, Sophie Ellerby, who began her career at the Television Workshop where the likes of Vicky McClure and Jack O Connell cut their teeth. Directed by Stef O’Driscoll, the play shows the acutely truthful story of Bex, a 14-year-old girl raised in care whose young life is marred and muddied by being part of an uncertain system that ultimately leaves her feeling unwanted and abandoned. Bex tries to navigate her way through her ever-changing world by making friends with the wrong people and as the blurb on the poster says, by ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’.

Eve Austin plays Bex and I predict that this young actress is one to watch. Her ability to interchange between bubbly, if troubled, school girl to heartbroken young woman stopping off at every possible emotion in between, is astounding. Her pace and energy never falter and she is utterly convincing as a Nottingham teenager looking for happiness but instead ending up in varying degrees of trouble. The small cast of six are equally matched in their ability to emotionally engage with one another and their talent for holding the audience’ attention. With several challenging and somewhat uncomfortable scenes, these performers do not hold back and give everything they have to every line they utter.

The set for this wonderfully enriching piece of theatre, designed by Minglu Wang, is possibly the cleverest set I have ever seen. The actors weave the set made up of intriguing yet foreboding metallic structures fixed with various light installations (by Peter Small) around the stage in between each scene with the drama never really halting. The structures take the form of a house, a hospital, a caravan… If you’re not quite sure what shape the set is meant to be, you’re in no doubt of its presence as a caravan at the end of one particular scene and the title of the play becomes somewhat clearer too. These sequences were so slick and felt so much a part of the story; the cast have clearly put the hours in in order to produce this standard of movement.

You could not see this production and not mention the music. Loud bursts of Cardi B bookend each scene as the set is moved. This current and intoxicating soundtrack is ideal for the youthful and chaotic tone of the production and really aids the never fledgling energy throughout.

A truly touching and thought-provoking story with so much humour and light interweaved into its tragic narrative.

Joanna Hoyes

LIT, by Sophie Ellerby

A Review

Sophie Ellerby’s play punches us in the face with the cruel truth of growing up in the care system. We follow the journey of Bex, portrayed mesmerizingly by Eve Austin, as she laughs, ridicules, parties, cries, loves, lusts, and breaks. She is surely one of the most honest and captivating characters to have ever been created, and we want to fight for her.

The set, at first glance, appears rather minimalist and industrial, but it is in fact a jigsaw puzzle that can be pulled apart or pushed together to create Bex’s world. This world culminates when the jigsaw is pieced together to create a caravan, and is doused in petrol and set alight by a broken Bex, represented by the lights turning a catastrophic red. The set, therefore, is very effective, as it presents the starkness of Bex’s experiences one minute, then illuminates her vivacity the next.

As an audience, we can relate most to foster parent Sylvia, played sensitively by Maxine Finch, as we frequently find ourselves wanting to scream at Bex, yet hold her. Via the sincerity and emotion of the acting, it is apparent that director Stef O’Driscoll has treated the themes and issues of the play with the upmost sensitivity, but not at the expense of sincerity and trauma.

LIT is one of the best plays you will ever see. It will register with your empathy and anger, and undoubtedly educate you. The outstanding script, alongside Bex being brought to life by the incomparable, passionate acting of Austin, will agitate you for a long time afterwards.

Grace Hulme

Lit play

Real, raw and relevant, the lit play creates a colourful story telling the life of a high school girl in care, Bex. Sophie Ellerby delivers a powerful debut, touching on the delicate subjects of foster care, women and baby units in prison, abuse and teenage pregnancy. Surprisingly with a list as long as that one, there were some positive and comedic areas, in fact the working-class humour over shadowed the darker moments at times.

On first look, walking into the smaller space of the playhouse theatre, the intimate play was set as what seemed to be two parts of a burnt-out caravan, a fragile surrounding representing Bex’s family unit of nothing but the rules of the care system. The outline of the caravan was lit up with neon lights during set changes to create Bex’s spirit within her foundations, positive and fun. A great use of semiotics even if they weren’t intended. On the beginning of each act, boards were transported through the stage naming the event, a Brechtian way of “ruining” the illusion of watching a play. In a naturalistic piece I would argue that the boards might not be needed, however bearing in mind the intentions of the play they were a nice addition to the contemporary piece.

The story and how it was convicted was beautiful, truly inside and out however it could become a cliché, a troubled girl goes looking for love in all of the wrong places, this isn’t to say that this is a bad thing because who doesn’t love a cliché but it could become a danger. Bex meets a girl named Ruth and befriends her, we then meet Ruth’s dad who is going through a divorce with Ruth’s mum. He picks Bex up from a party one night, she’s blind drunk and needs looking after. The two begin to grow closer, his paternal role does him no favours and Bex mistakes the care he is giving for lust. Is this cliché or is this what happens in real life? We saw it on Eastenders with Whitney Dean and Tony King, a girl who’s only blood relation was her brother. Vulnerable at the age of 15, She had been taken advantage of and manipulated into having a relationship with her motherlike figures fiancé.

Over all a great play with great story telling, fabulously put together by both writer and director. Each character having clear objectives throughout, especially at the very end. Bex delivers a very powerful monologue to her new born, telling her how the world isn’t all that nice but she is. The monologue carries on for some time, we all feel for the young mother until the very last line of the play, she looks up to each and every person in the audience as if we are the ones about to take her baby from her, as if we’ve been judging her all of the way through. We seemed to be so engaged with what was happening on the stage it was chilling to be confronted with the true conflict.

Jennifer Lilly

LIT: Sophie Ellerby’s blistering breakdown of the cracks in the care system, and the combustion of the children at its centre

LIT begins with our protagonist Bex (a stellar Eve Austin) talking to her new born baby Amy. The audience are unsure of the context, but we sense Bex is about to leave her and it triggers an atmosphere of distress for the rest of the play; we know what is to come.

The plot follows Bex, a fourteen-year-old girl in foster care after her mother’s suicide. She’s hilarious and beautiful (it’s important that she’s ‘beautiful’), but all that is hiding a broken girl who just needs to be cared for. Covering issues of drugs, sex, school, prison, family and consent (note the brilliant ‘cup of tea’ scene), LIT showcases director Stef O’Driscoll’s ability to navigate a teenage girl’s struggle with issues she’s much too young to face and creates a world that the stage should hold more often than it does.

LIT’s impact is charged by the forceful message it gives out: the care system has been left to be a system that doesn’t really care at all. Casting director Vicky Richardson has ensured an eruption of pure talent; the entire cast delivers a complex and striking performance, adding to the brash and unapologetic motivation behind the play. Ellerby and O’Driscoll’s theatre is one that should never be left behind, and TV Workshop’s actors guarantee that LIT won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Minglu Wang’s stage design cases the performance in neon-lit wire cages, formations that take the shape of bedrooms, a caravan, bus stops and others. The set traps the story in a microcosm of people let down by the system they rely on. The set was moved and contorted into different positions, for different settings, by the supporting cast. The constant movement of the set works to amplify the chaotic and uncertainty of Bex’s life, whilst the lack of clear body shows the emptiness of the system keeping her safe, and how she falls out of their grasp.

The youth of the cast really shine. The school time sweetheart relationship between Bex and Dillon (Josh Barrow) holds the naivety and spontaneity of first love. But it is soon shadowed by the dark overcast of Dillon’s older brother Lee (Kieran Hardcastle) who soon crumbles their deserved innocence with brutal and ignorant force.

The scenes at Lee’s sordid caravan stand out as particularly uncomfortable, as the audience watch the teenage characters fall victim to pressure into drugs and alcohol from someone they look up to. Bex invites her bookworm best friend Ruth (Tiger Cohen-Towell) to one of the caravan ‘parties’. Ruth, desperate to prove herself, partakes in taking pills and binge drinking. The dark humour created by her intoxicated state is uncomfortable; Cohen-Towell’s acting is brilliant, the audience were belly-laughing, but the aftertaste of the scene is bitter.

The last scene is a continuation of the first moment we meet Bex and is sure to stay focal in the minds of the audience. Watching the broken teenage mother experience the last few moments with her child is harrowing. Austin excels in these last moments, performing a cathartic and brilliant outpour of sensitivity that feisty Bex has held in far too long. The stage is bare and dark. She is lit by a single spotlight, and is stripped of her own clothes, her armour, wearing just a hospital gown. This directs all focus to her when she speaks, ‘‘I won’t be there the first time you wear tiny, f***ing armbands’. Here, the reality of Ellerby’s writing comes to a crashing climax. Bex’s naivety comes face to face with the brutal nature of her circumstances; brilliant writing combined with truthful execution. Bex is told to act in the ‘best interest of the child’, whilst only being a child herself. This heart-breaking irony proves LIT’s strength to lie in its writing; there is a definite buzz as to what story Ellerby will create next.

Grace Sansom

Phenomenal, exquisite, incredibly overwhelming and an absolute emotional rollercoaster!

This play is like no other I have seen, that addresses the misinterpretation of the working class and their ‘troublesome’ youth.

Sophie Ellerby’s debut play centres around the vivacious teenage girl named Bex and her life after her mother’s death, having then been in several foster homes and various new schools.

You would assume she would be able to catch a break after all her misfortune; where she could find someone, who wants to adopt her, friends, a boyfriend, a school, and most importantly a home where she can settle down and be happy.

But so many of us out there don’t realise that it really isn’t as simple as that and Ellerby brilliantly demonstrates this with humour, audacity and compassion.

The second I walked into the theatre, I was captivated by Eve Austin (who plays Bex). I really felt the struggle and pain in her eyes and in her anxious body movement, and this was all without any dialogue. From then on, her performance just surpasses any expectation. Austin is breath-taking; she has so much passion in every word, tear, action…I fully believe she stole the show!

She masterfully exhibits the various stages of emotional turmoil Bex faces, manoeuvring from the typical teenage brattish stereotype to the heartbroken inconsolable child who yearns for love and acceptance.

A truly stunning talent who perfectly displays a complicated teen in a cruel world.

I have to say, the casting for the roles by Vicky Richardson CDG was fantastic!

I say this as I now bring myself to discuss another amazing talent, that being Maxine Finch who plays Sylvia, the troubled loving short-lived foster mother to Bex. Finch gives a fabulous performance as a kind woman who really loves Bex but must let her go for the sake of her mental health. Their storyline within the play was utterly heart-breaking!

Finch was undeniably a major influence on my tears by successfully evincing a character who is hurting and helpless. It broke my heart, because realistically…Bex is not her responsibility, no matter how much they both want it to be.

The way Finch cried, the way she held herself, the way she struggled to make eye contact especially when talking to Bex was an indicator that this woman is not strong enough to look after herself, let alone an unfortunate orphan.

My only issue was with the staging of the different scenes and location; at times I found it difficult to distinguish what was what and where the characters were as the set was dependant on the movement and position of large pole lights which asserted different locations. But this wouldn’t be for too long and wouldn’t occur that often, and this may have only been due to my far right seating position in the audience. Yet, the staging is a perfect interpretation of Bex’s chaotic life, emphasised by a blank background covered in scribbles. I assume this is how she feels and there’s no other way of expressing her dejection. The overall design was incredibly innovative and unique which forces you to use your imagination, which also reaffirms the lack of peace and contentment in Bex’s life.

The play can be described just as the name puts fourth, absolutely and positively ‘lit’!

Tegan Wallace

Lit Review

Sophie Ellerby and Stef O’Driscoll didn’t hold back on this debut production; with loud and proud rap music blaring before the play even started, I truly felt as if I was about to enter the messy, confusing world of Bex (Eve Austin). But what scared me was that this was the same world that I live in, and then I knew what this play was: a warning. A hilarious, compelling warning, but one nevertheless.

With the fabulous casting by Vicky Richardson, it’s no wonder this play surpassed my expectations. It was hard to believe that Eve Austin wasn’t already featured in a television drama; she had me captivated from her opening monologue where I could fully feel her bitterness and yet utter desperation at her situation. She made what could have been an annoying and one-sided character so lovable: from her witty humour to her child-like naivety and energy to her fear and vunerability (for example, the snot running down her nose at her concluding monologue). There was no way I was going to leave the studio without feeling some connection to Bex.

As a teenager of a similar age to the character I could see a lot of people from school in Bex: she had teenage mannerisms and body language down to a tee, and this both frightened and intriuged me, but is really just proof of Austin’s brilliant performance. But as well as bringing me tears of pain, the production also had a lot of moments when I and all of the audience were crying with laughter: Ruth (played by Tiger Cohen-Towell) was darkly humourous in her appearance at that crucial caravan, and Bex had us laughing all the way through with her exuberance *examples *. Overall the cast of six were brilliant but were all thoroughly overshadowed by the marvelous Eve Austin.

Given that the Neville Studio, where the show was performed, is a relatively small space, designer Mignlu Wang had managed to use this to her advantage with her moveable set skeletons which serve as shells for many things, but most significantly the caravan, where the more harrowing scenes happen. The constant moving of the sets (utilizing the cast of six for added drama) accurately displays the chaos Bex has to deal with as she moves through the care system and tries to find a safe haven (unsuccessfully). This is emphasized by the empty, oppressive nature of the neon wire outlines showing the lack of hope and the bleak future of Bex, that is uncomfortable yet true.

Surprisingly, one of the things I came out energized about was the choice of music: throughout the performance rap music (predominantly by female rappers such as Cardi B and Little Simz) is played to show Bex’s loud personality (as music taste shows the character of so many of us) and help set the scene in working class Britain. It was consistently too loud, a creative decision designed to bring a sense of discomfort, especially to those familiar with traditional theatre (which Ellerby was certainly not intending for ‘Lit’). One song that in particular stood out to me was ‘No More Wonderland’ by Little Simz which was played before the beginning of the play and at the transition between the climactic penultimate scene and the final scene; its message was poignant, melancholy and ties in with the beginning scene in which Bex tells her child that her life won’t be like a fairytale or ‘wonderland’.

There are so many unique elements to ‘Lit’ (like the shadow motifs and dramatic cuts) that I thought would never come into play for a debut production and that left me feeling almost disappointed that all plays weren’t this up close and personal. But of course none of this would have worked if it hadn’t been for the sheer talent Eve Austin brought as the lead, and the compelling writing of Sophie Ellerby – a play I most certainly won’t forget.

Elspeth White