Stuart King

Review: LITTLE SCRATCH at New Diorama

Arts journo Rebecca Watson’s widely praised debut novel little scratch was given the theatrical treatment by Miriam Battye and first presented as a performance piece at Hampstead Theatre, at the tail end of 2021. Directed by Katie Mitchell with an accompanying rhythmic score by Melanie Wilson, theatregoers get another chance to witness this extraordinarily original and uncompromising flow of consciousness piece, at the New Diorama.

little scratch - New Diorama Theatre - L-R Eve Ponsonby, Eleanor Henderson, Rebekah Murrell & Ragevan Vasan (photo by Ellie Kurttz)little scratch - New Diorama Theatre - L-R Eve Ponsonby, Eleanor Henderson, Rebekah Murrell & Ragevan Vasan (photo by Ellie Kurttz)

Boasting far more mundane, potentially triggering events and considerations than most any humdrum day has a right to possess, the production’s four actors (Eleanor Henderson, Rebekah Murrell, Eve Ponsonby and Ragevan Vasan) use the score to relay a rhythmic first person diatribe on one woman’s journey from her waking moments to falling asleep in the arms of her lover.

On occasions the narrative meanders in multitudinous directions, but always returns to the nagging and raw trauma of the sexual attack she has endured at the hands of her boss. The title of the piece is derived from her violent and involuntary self-harming which pervades this unsettling and hypnotising piece — usually during one of the many visits to the office lavatory, where a state of momentary semi-solitude affords some solace against the unbearable requirement to respond unemotionally to trivial emailed instructions and deal with the stream of inconsequential requests and unwanted interactions.

It is perhaps difficult to imagine how four performers — for the most part static, save the occasional physical deployment of props — positioned in front of microphone stands and beneath overhead lighting, could relay such potency, fear, panic, relief, disgust, boredom, desire, contempt and irritation. Their overlapping lines (often no more than a single interjected word), offer humour and profundity as they comment on familiar objects, people and situations, becoming darker as deeply unsettling recollections surface during stressful situations and proximities.

The piece succinctly conveys (as few have been capable), the sorts of fears and wariness which every woman must carry with her as she goes about her life, and which men should be required to consider more often as they go about theirs.

little scratch is as far removed from a piece of bubble-gum fluff as it is possible to get, but as hard-hitting, meticulously rehearsed and compelling performance art, few efforts will be able to match this polished and thought-provoking end result.