Deep in the dungeon of London’s queer culture, almost festering, are the three cellars of London’s lesbian scene. Situated literally underneath the male equivalent, “pre-cum and sweat” drip through the ceiling, while women eye each other up a little too worried to approach. Or at least, that’s how Rigby – the hero of Izzy Tennyson’s Grotty – tells it.
Damsel’s production of Grotty makes this manifest. It’s almost too perfect – we go down into The Bunker (which is itself, of course, the underbelly of another theatre), where shiny and velvety dark reflective surfaces are eventually covered in grime and powder over the course of the play. We follow Rigby through a twisted love triangle (or perhaps love polygon) as she tries to navigate her way through a mess of her own creation, between a cast of characters that border on dark fairytale figures.
These characters are cleverly performed by the all-doubling cast, who each play one of Rigby’s ally’s, and one of her enemies. Each doubled character is equally fleshed-out and believable, while the changing still keeps us ever-reminded of how unclear and confusing Rigby’s world is. This is amped up by having characters sit amongst the audience and watch the action when offstage: there’s no boundary that director Hannah King is unwilling to blur.
As the only undoubled and omnipresent character, Rigby is simultaneously the most fleshed out and the most invisible of all the characters in the play. She’s a fascinating narrator, reliably unreliable and equal parts brash and naive, and Tennyson embodies her brilliantly, all gurning and discomfort and unease curled up around the story that even she doesn’t quite understand. The only problem with Rigby is that she’s almost too familiar, too relatable, and her every(wo)man status puts her on the brink of non-existence. But perhaps again this is just because the experiences women dating women in their early twenties are so similar, and perhaps we’re not used to seeing ourselves replicated onstage so well.
Despite regular moments of comedy that felt like a friendly nudge to and for queer women – and indeed, the audience when I was there was almost entirely female – Grotty‘s a grim indictment of queer female love. And life. Yet perhaps this doesn’t matter – perhaps Grotty serves to remind us that queer women have as much right to depressing depiction as anyone else.
Grotty plays at The Bunker until 26th May. Tickets start at £10 for under-30s and are available here.