I Know I Know I Know – Southwark Playhouse (runs until April 16th 2022)
A tough and gripping exploration of relationships, abuse, secrets and lies provides a tough 75 minutes of new drama at Southwark Playhouse.
Flora Wilson Brown’s play I Know I Know I Know features three characters in an intimate space telling different stories in an unexpected and creative way, with the truth slowly and shockingly unravelling.
What starts out as the recollections of an ardent fan of a musician and two friends on a trip to a wedding, with light touches and humour, takes a dark turn as we realise we are party to a revelation about the exploitation of fame, abuse of young admirers by celebrities and the dawning awareness that a friend has hidden secrets.
The title may get some thinking about the lockdown viral hit Back Up by DeJ Loaf and Big Sean, whose catchy chorus had TikTok fans going crazy, or even Tegan and Sara’s early noughties single. But the influence for this piece about the abuse of young fans by musicians is the Shania Twain song at its heart, You’re Still the One: Twain and Robert John “Mutt” Lange wrote the song while in a relationship that caused controversy because of the age difference between them.
But what happens when a song is being played endlessly all around you (in this case a new version of the Shania Twain hit by the very musician that caused your trauma) and it brings back nothing but unpleasant and frightening memories?
The way Flora Wilson Brown tackles such a thorny issue is remarkable and clever. The young girl recording her story seems for all the world like a celebrity stalker, while the story about the friends driving to a wedding looks as though it is going to unfold along the lines of the female driver confronting the fact that the bride to be is her ex.
But as lines and memories overlap and as the man in the car keeps receiving mobile phone messages that leave him increasingly uncomfortable the chilling reality oozes through to unsettling exposure.
What emerges is something teasing and tense. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the layered line delivery, but that’s rather the point – things aren’t clear cut but messy and confusing when these true stories are spoken. Who do we choose to listen to in the confusion? The actors do a fine job of ensuring the story is presented, not once losing control in what could all too easily become muddled and bewildering.
Hannah Khalique-Brown as Alice brilliantly treads a fine line, coming across initially as a crazed schoolgirl follower of a successful band but bit by bit letting us in to the truth that she is just one of several girls of whom the lead member has taken advantage. Her anxious memories are in fact her recounting her story for an article being produced, allowing her #MeToo empowerment and the opportunity to look to the future, however difficult.
Ethan Moorhouse is in top form as Max, the world-famous musician tormented more by the thought of being found out than by any sense of wrongdoing. It’s a weighty demand to be playing the amiable star fighting back from alcohol and drug dependency who gradually through the play must become despised by all on stage and in the audience and he handles it admirably and effortlessly.
And Martha Watson Allpress as Hannah shifts superbly from the star’s best friend sharing laughs and gentle banter to the person betrayed when the truth is revealed, in desperation facing the victim with apology for not seeing what was going on through the years.
Director Harry Tennison ably manages to hold together the different strands, so seamlessly and subtly unlocking the whole story that we barely notice the encroaching darkness (also picked up in Ryan Day’s lighting).
Victoria Maytom’s multi-purpose set serves for the variety of scenes, cosily disguising the uncomfortable anguish behind the story.
I Know I Know I Know is the inaugural production for new company DONOTALIGHT and paves the way for future success. It was due to be staged during this year’s VAULT Festival, which was cancelled, so it’s a genuine joy that Southwark Playhouse was able to offer a venue for such an important and challenging new work.
There is an undeniable strong message of being strong and keeping going in the aftermath of issues which are all too real for so many, yet there is also the horrible recognition that while victims and friends will always be haunted by what has happened the perpetrators may not even be censored unless the vulnerable are willing to be brave and speak out.
Images: Ellie Kurttz