Caragh Medlicott reviews the new play from Katherine Chandler, Lose Yourself, at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff.
Katherine Chandler’s Lose Yourself is a reflective kind of play; one that holds a mirror to a layer of society without offering personal verdict. Told through the intertwined monologues of the three lead characters, Chandler has important questions to ask about the disparity of subjective experience. There are big topics at hand – working class opportunities, youth culture, gender roles and sexual assault are all laid out on stage – yet the strength of Lose Yourself lies in its ability to handle these themes without morally coding them; this isn’t a didactic tale, but a revealing one. The play follows the stories of Yaz (Gabrielle Creevy), Josh (Tim Preston) and Nate (Aaron Anthony) as their narratives converge, if only fleetingly, into one story.
These three characters are connected by wanting – each has an underlying anxiety that isolates them from those they should be close to. Yaz craves the release of a night out – for her, it symbolises a momentary escape from a niggling fear that her life has flatlined in an inescapable job at the nail bar. Her routine rotates in a mundane cycle of work and weekend, with “getting destroyed” the only reliable solace in a life that is devoid of meaningful opportunity. At only 18, Josh is an embodiment of the Gen Z-ers’ anti-social behaviour; in his own words, “hell is other people”. A promising upcoming footballer, all he wants is to play – but a troubling injury threatens to bring the dream of Premier League football crashing down. His teammate, Nate, is nearing the end of his career and desperate to make the most of the last waves of fame and privilege offered up by the slightly dimmed glamour of third-tier football. Bravado and banter hide a creeping paranoia that his proudly hedonistic lifestyle will soon fade to black. The audience is bounced between these polarised voices; the distinct monologues tell not only of their thoughts, but provide snapshots of their lives, all whilst dropping the breadcrumbs needed to lead us towards their inevitable night out.
With its all-female writing, directing and design team, the world of Lose Yourself is carefully constructed to fit its dark, grimy feel. Despite being set in Cardiff, the set has all the anonymity you’d expect of a nightclub; this could be anywhere.
Director Patricia Logue starts with an easy pacing as we’re introduced to each individual, but as the story unravels so does everything else, with an almost panicked edge coming through at the height of the night out. It is also in this moment that Carla Goodman’s design really bursts to life; blocky squares lined with neon lights are stacked at various heights – each and every surface has the potential to become a dance floor as Yaz and Nate jump about the set with enviable energy.
Sam Jones’ music is at its most pressing here – generic club beats are undertoned with a pulsing anxiety that at least partially reflects the restlessness of each protagonist. Scene changes are punctuated with the kind of cheesy club beats usually reserved for reality TV. The lighting provided by Andy Pike appears in singular strikes as tequila shots are hammered down, but comes into its own when playing out as the eerie flickering of the TV in a dark hotel room; a moment of metaphorical reflection becomes literal as the colours of the TV play over the frozen faces of Yaz and Nate while Josh paints the picture for Lose Yourself’s darkest scene.
Chandler’s writing transitions easily between the visceral voices of her characters into the flourished descriptions of whichever drama is presently unfolding. There is humour here, too, especially in Yaz who is apt to offer sly observations on everything from the messy eating habits of her taxi driver to the sexual escapades of her friend. Occasionally, minor jolts in the writing remove us from its realism – do we really believe Josh so literally views “the dole, drugs or die young” as his three alternatives to football? Maybe, maybe not. While Nate’s “laddish” language is actually one of the biggest triumphs of the play’s dialogue, a brief interlude complaining about “the feminazis” feels less convincing when compared to the prevailing arrogance which usually dominates his tone of voice. Creevy, Preston and Anthony are on the edge of bright careers and it shows – all three offer energised performances that live up to the tall order of characters required to sway from drunken glee to shell-shocked obliviousness.
Lose Yourself considers how misogyny manifests itself through male anger and entitlement. Nate’s sexism is the most apparent; from the first moment we see him grope a woman bringing her child over for an autograph we can guess where his story is heading. There is tragedy in his own ignorance. By the end of the play Nate is a rapist and sexual harasser, but he’s also entirely oblivious to this fact. Josh’s misogyny is, in some ways, more complex – he reprimands a friend for upskirting a drunk girl and seems to have a clear understanding of why this is wrong. Yet, after finding his ex-girlfriend dancing with another boy, his anger quickly destabilises any grasp he has on morality as he spirals into a familiar territory of slut-shaming. All of this is wrapped up in an overriding concern about how we, as a society, understand consent. Chandler shines a light on how reluctant we are to think about the dark turn that “pulling” on a night out can take when someone is excessively intoxicated.
Lose Yourself’s ending offers no thorough resolution, no justice; the closing moments are suspended, incomplete. This unfinishedness is what gives the play its punch. A tied up narrative would only draw attention to its artifice, but the whole point is that what it represents is real; night club culture only thinly disguises a society which is still unclear when it comes to alcohol consumption and consent. We don’t know what happens next – and it is that which makes it more real, striking and haunting.