It can be enlightening watching two apparently disconnected plays which give resonance to each other. A couple of days ago I watched one called Really Want To Hurt Me which concerned a young adult’s experience of life in a rural town, the prejudice he faced, his desire to escape to a new life in the city and his eventual success in doing so. It was an hour long monologue with the performer narrating and playing the various roles within the storyline. Then along comes Half Breed which, remarkably treads very similar ground and in a very similar style. The main points of difference are the genders of the two protagonists and the time frame – the first takes place in the early 1980s while the second is more contemporary; other than that, the outcomes are remarkably similar.
There’s also a difference in the prejudice they face. The unnamed protagonist in the first play is partially able to conceal the fact that he is gay but Jazmin, the central figure in the second, is not so fortunate. She is of mixed race heritage and, therefore, her perceived fault is instantly more conspicuous. Living in a small rural community in the west country where she’s in a minority of one – “Trust me, around here I’m about as black as it goes” – she finds herself the target of racist attitudes often supposedly disguised as banter, but which can be rather more open and deliberately hurtful. She’s survived so far with the aid of close friend Brogan, but that relationship is starting to deteriorate. Brogan has somewhat limited horizons seeing her future revolving round being a teenage mum – an ambition she seems likely to fulfil at any moment with the aid of chief villain of the piece Mitchell, the local supposedly alpha male about whom Jaz makes a fateful discovery. However, with the encouragement of her carer gran, she seems set to escape the small town claustrophobia by auditioning for drama school and it’s surely significant that the teenagers in both pieces see this as their route to freedom.
To that end, Jaz is learning a Shakespeare monologue. It’s from The Winter’s Tale and features the queen, Hemione, standing up to her accusers and rebuffing their arguments – a significant parallel. I enjoyed the irony of the character voicing her concern about how difficult it is to memorise the words of a long speech coming from the lips of a young actress who has done exactly that. And there’s no doubt that Natasha Marshall is a name we’re going to hear more of as she keeps this solo piece aloft with varied characterisation and a sense of conviction. Marshall is also the writer and has acknowledged the piece as semi-autobiographical; the fact that it is based on experience invests the piece with real truth. At many points the writing breaks into deliberate verse form which is unexpected but heightens the language to create a sense of forward propulsion and the importance of words.
Half Breed was performed live on tour in 2017/18, and has been filmed in the empty auditorium of the Soho Theatre mostly eschewing any camera trickery in Miranda Cromwell’s straightforward direction. It is very simply presented (another point of similarity with the other monologue) just being the solo performer on an almost bare stage. There are some strange rock shaped lights suspended from above, the significance of which becomes apparent towards the end of the play so there is little to distract from the powerful central narrative. And with her assured performance, Marshall captivates and engages her unseen audience. While I preferred this later play, putting these two solo performances back to back in a double bill would make for an interesting evening’s viewing and as they are both freely available it’s definitely worth your time.
Half Breed is available on BBC iPlayer – click here
For another example of Natasha Marshall’s writing/performance go to the short monologue Crop Circles – click here
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