There is something breathtaking about the Soho Theatre's newly commissioned play, Meeting Myself Coming Back, not least the standard of the writing. Kerry Hood's startling piece is a remarkable tribute to Soho's commitment to new work.
Twenty-one-year-old Catherine hasn't spoken since she was 13. She returns to her childhood home for the first time since losing her voice and begins to talk, telling the story of her life. It's a story not only of an excruciatingly savage past but of a daily timetable of silence, her only attempted external communication a smattering of mouthed "thank you's". As a result, life has become a routine of Safeways and cleaning at the Community Centre "where you can learn to love Jesus or line-dancing."
Beautifully played by Joanna Holden, Catherine's love of words belies her silence; she is enchanted by etymology and books. Sharp and witty, her observations about the world around her are delightfully funny (the Diana Princess of Wales doll that comes accompanied by 'Dodi Prince of Harrods') and wise ("You should feel being afraid then not let it be you").
Despite her apologies for "the lack of drama, the lack of bigness", Catherine's shocking story is one that will stay with me for some time. One day, her father, who worked "in communications" for BT, had a bad day, came home and "communicated it to my mother" in forceful fashion. The domestic abuse and devastating family relationships are re-enacted by Annie Fitzmaurice and Clive Mendus, as Catherine's parents, and Lisa Moule, as sister Meg.
Director John Wright's use of these three actors - as scene-shifting ghosts who bring the past painfully to life - presents a few difficulties. Their initial appearances in particular seem overly stylised and clumsy, which sits uncomfortably with the strength of Hood's writing. As the younger sibling, Moule is the only one who completely overcomes this awkwardness; fidgety and silly, she delights in the 'freestyle' dancing of an 11-year-old. Her performance is everything an older sister remembers of the younger.
Though highly functional, representing a variety of locations without fuss, Tom Piper's set doesn't quite seem to rise to the quality of the play.
Meeting Myself Coming Back after all is a demanding piece. It demands of its director and designer and certainly of its performers. Holden rises to those demands with an outstandingly haunting performance of fear and desperation. It, and Hood's material, makes demands on the audience too - requiring no small amounts of bravery. I, for one, found it incredibly difficult to watch. But while emotionally wrenching and ultimately devastating, Hood's incredibly powerful play rewards the efforts on all fronts.