I Can’t Hear You, Theatre503

by Laura Kressly

After Ash and Lucy hook up after work drinks, things quickly get serious between the two young call centre workers. Initially they can’t get enough of each other, but something shifts between them after a homophobic attack on a night out. Their different responses ultimately drive a wedge between them, though underneath this conflict there is genuine and joyful queer love.

Writer Natasha Brotherdale Smith finely balances this love and its resulting tensions, but her non-linear episodic script gives away the relationship’s arc too soon. Though she holds back an important reveal until the end, knowing how the women work out – or not – a few minutes into the play dampens the warm, squishy nostalgia for that new-relationship feeling, otherwise so tenderly portrayed. The scenes are extremely short, and some would benefit from some additional breathing space so the momentum isn’t so broken up. However, Ash and Lucy’s relationship dynamic, evolving from the honeymoon phase into harsh reality, is likely recognisable to most people, whatever their sexual orientation. However, its the added navigation of deeply entrenched self-loathing, coming out, and discrimination that further queers this story.

Zoë Birkbeck as Ash is anxious and vulnerable, which effectively contrasts Lydia Cashman’s Lucy, who is ferocious and determined to live life out and proud. Their feelings towards each other are precisely articulated and convincingly intimate, even in conflict. The basic set of a couple of stools and a flight case makes their affection the focal point and drives the story forward through the many scenes and their transitions.

In a theatre landscape where queer work is more skewed towards narratives about gay men, the focus on women makes it all the more valuable. The story is well-structured even if its form sometimes undermines its power, and the characters’ care for each other prods at the soft spots of the heart shaped by its first experiences with love.

I Can’t Hear You runs through 7 July.

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