Friday, August 28, 2009
Edinburgh: Precious Little Talent
Ella Hickson’s first play, Eight, consisted - as the name suggests - of eight monologues, only four of which were performed on any given night, with the audience selecting the pieces they wanted to see.
The monologues were loosely themed around the shifting economic situation and how young people, accustomed to a world rich in choice and possibility, were being forced to adjust. It contained moments of inspired writing but the format, the lack of interaction between the pieces, ended up a limiting one.
In her second play, Precious Little Talent, Hickson has adopted a more conventional dramatic structure, yet it is one that really pays off. The three-hander begins with Sam, a bright-eyed nineteen year old American, recounting his first encounter with Joey, a rooftop union that led to them both charging through the midnight streets of New York and ending up at Grand Central Station in each other’s arms.
Having recently lost her job, Joey has come to America to visit her father, George, a former academic with a sharp, dismissive manner. He lives alone and it is clear that there has been some drift between father and daughter since the end of his marriage. What Joey does not yet know is that the young man she shared her impulsive evening with, her cinematic swoop through the city, is also her father’s carer – that her dad is diminishing, unravelling, losing his capacity to care for himself.
Precious Little Talent cements what Eight merely hinted at: that Hickson is a writer of some skill. The emotional tone of the play is admirably nuanced. The relationship between father and daughter – affectionate yet volatile, needy yet abrupt – is a complex but recognisable one, and while the play contains moments of acute sadness, there is also much wit in evidence. The cultural gulf between the English and Americans proves a particularly rich source of humour.
Not everything stands up to scrutiny. There are some questions Hickson, intentionally or otherwise, leaves unanswered. Sam’s actual role remains ill-defined: is he a nurse? Is caring for George his main job or something he does while he studies? The sudden budding relationship between Sam and Joey also feels a little too convenient. Yet George’s monologues, his moments alone, are incredibly moving and John McColl is superb as a man coming to grips with a lessening of self he is powerless to halt.
The two younger cast members both do an excellent job with their roles. There’s clearly more depth to Sam then his beaming exterior would initially suggest; he is sensitive to George’s needs and perceptive about Joey’s fears and anxieties. Emma Hiddleston, as the slightly stiff English girl, comes across as proud and self-sufficient yet at the same time she is clearly looking for something solid and secure to cling on to.
As in Eight, Hickson is interested in what it means to arrive at adulthood just as the rules seem to be shifting, as the old roads are swamped in snow and new paths need to be dug. The shadow of a past generation’s aspirations still looms large but this is a new world and Hickson is one of its most astute voices.
Reviewed for musicOMH