Really Want To Hurt Me (Online review)

Really Want To Hurt Me (Online review)

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”. So runs the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s The Go Between – indeed the quotation may just be the most famous thing about the novel which sees an older man looking back at an earlier era when the whole business of relationships was entirely different. I had much the same feeling yesterday when viewing Really Want To Hurt Me, a play about growing up in the mid-1980s. It wasn’t so much the plotline that accorded with personal experience – by then I was well past my teenage years, newly married and forging a path into a career and early middle age. Rather it lay in the wealth of detailed references with which writer Ben SantaMaria peppered his script and raised a wry smile every time something was mentioned.

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The unnamed protagonist of this monologue is a 15 year old living in Topsham near Exeter in 1984. One of the biggest “crimes” is to be different and he lives in fear that his schoolmates will discover that he is gay. Actually, it would seem that they have pretty much worked this out already as they harass, bully and victimise him through name calling, ritual humiliation and even physical abuse. Some solace is found in friendship with Tish and in the music of the day. He releases some of his pent up frustration through dancing, though generally this is in private and through getting involved in the local theatre world where he moves from Third Elf (he’s embarrassingly demoted from the Second slot) in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe to playing the lead role in Macbeth. The story is played out through a series of anecdotes some of which are funny, some of which are painful; most are a carefully composed combination of the two. However, the incidents do become a little repetitive and are often in danger of allowing cliché to creep in.

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The piece is performed by Ryan Price who conveys a degree of teenage gawkiness that gradually matures into confidence as the character finds his way to some sort of resolution within himself and with others. He forms a direct rapport with the audience; he seems reluctant to reveal some details but is clearly longing to both come clean and come out at the same time. Price has to rely almost entirely on his story telling abilities as there is no set at all and little in the way of supporting props. However, SantaMaria’s direction keeps things moving at a pace and the various segments are broken up with appropriate songs which comment on the action and to which Price limbers up for the next section. It’s heartening to see the play ending on a note of positivity although in reality the AIDS pandemic was starting to make its presence felt.

SantaMaria (the writer) tries to draw some parallels between the protagonist’s real situation in 1984 and the novel of that name by George Orwell. These seem a bit heavy handed and rather shoehorned in; it all gets rather too self-referential when music by the Eurhythmics used in the film version that came out that year is deployed. But the other more throwaway references really help to place the piece in a particular time. With Adam Ant, Boy George and Tears For Fears dominating the airwaves, Benny Hill on TV, Charlie perfume scenting the air, going out for dinner at Spudulike or staying at home for Findus Crispy Pancakes there is plenty to cause a surge of nostalgia. I wonder what younger audience members might make of it all, but as a time capsule of life in the early 80s this Flaming Theatre production certainly resonated.

Really Want To Hurt Me is available on You Tube – click here

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