Write Loud and Clear about What Hurts is a smartly-written play that dives into the confusion of the wounded psyche, says Alison Croggon
Write Loud and Clear about What Hurts is a twist on a famous Ernest Hemingway quote, “write hard and clear about what hurts”. It’s hard to think of a less appropriate resonance for this show than the tough, hard-bitten maleness of Hemingway, since this two-woman play plunges into the swampy mess of human – especially feminine – anxiety. And what does it mean to write loudly, anyway? Can writing be loud? Does it mean all-caps shouting on the internet? And even if you do write loudly, does anyone hear it?
This smartly-written show prompts this kind of run-on thinking. Written by Lucy Moir and performed by Moir and Debra Lawrance, it makes us privy to a series of therapy sessions, in which Moir’s character Lucy unburdens herself, or a series of fictions about herself, to Lawrance. They sit either side of a table, where Lucy surreptitiously takes swigs from a mini-bottle of vodka. It’s clearly in Lawrance’s home, for they are regularly interrupted by the therapist’s cat, who has emergencies such as getting stuck in the catflap.
Mainly it’s Lucy talking. In fact, she can’t stop talking. The silence of the therapist – “it’s your time”, says Lawrance – prompts an endless spillage of her most neurotic anxieties and fantasies. Her obsession with death, for instance: the constant impulse to throw herself in front of trains, or, more accurately, her fear of doing so, as she also admits that’s it not so much a suicidal impulse as her fear that she might take up the possibility, that she has the choice to do it, to write a firm line underneath everything and solve all her problems.
Her problems are manifold. She has three lovers, all of whom she sees three or four times a week, often on the same night. She is an orphan. She accidentally froze her pet rabbit when she was a child. Her previous relationships were all nightmares. She’s an alcoholic who shoves drugs up her nose every weekend. In between talking out her problems, she compulsively spits out speculations – she’s on the spectrum, she’s a psychopath, she’s addictive. Why doesn’t she feel anything? Why?
Her therapist initially is a neutral, silent wall, against which Lucy throws her psychological junk. But as the sessions progress, the two begin to have a relationship, or at least a conversation, and the professional wall begins to unprofessionally break down. When Lucy demands medication and is told she has come to the wrong place, it devolves into two women having a vicious stand up fight, and Lawrance throws her out.
This prompts a monologue where Lucy beats herself up for her compulsive chatter – she can’t shut herself up, the words keep pouring out of her, the lies and the truth, but mostly her self-hatred, which is the other side of the coin of narcissism. Lucy comes back, and they continue the therapy sessions, and finally the truth begins to come out. It turns out that Lucy has mostly been lying.
Lawrance is best known for her role in the tv series Please Like Me, which is, among other things, an acute exploration of mental illness. This show’s humour inhabits similar territory, exploring the desperate comedy that comes out of psychological pain. It also recalls Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, another show about a fucked up woman, although it’s rather less bleak. Moir and Lawrance are both very funny performers who turn the absurdities of mental anguish with the necessary undercurrent of compassion for their characters. Neither of them, it seems, are very good at their lives.
What’s revealed underneath Lucy’s compulsive fictions is her inability to deal with her own pain. “Your heart is broken,” says Lawrance, explaining that it’s not that she can’t feel anything, she just can’t cope with what she does feel. And finally Lucy does speak plainly. This is perhaps the weakest part of the writing, in that it veers for the first time towards didacticism, but it stays just this side of tipping over the edge.
Lucy’s anxieties are, after all, recognisable to anyone who lives in the 21st century, assaulted by a constant flow of information, external disaster, internal confusion and pain and, it has to be said, the on-going low-level trauma that goes with being female. It’s no accident that the most common reason people consult their GPs is their mental health. Write Loud and Clear about What Hurts is an assured show by two very assured performers, and well worth a look.
Write Loud and Clear About What Hurts, written by Lucy Moir. Performed by Lucy Moir and Debra Lawrance. Fringe Hub: Lithuanian Club – The Loft, until September 29. Bookings
Contains moderate coarse language and potentially triggering content
The Fringe Hub is partially accessible by wheelchair