Polaris

Fri 4th – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Tamsin Bracher

at 09:24 on 21st Aug 2017

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In an interview with Inside Theatre, the award-winning slam poet, actor and writer, Hannah Raymond-Cox describes her latest show, 'Polaris', as a ‘story of how you find home’. It is a powerful exploration of personal identity, female sexuality, mental health and what it means to belong: ‘what happens’, Hannah asks, ‘if I don’t belong anywhere?’. And it is this sense of the liminal, that which is in-between and yet universal, the idea of ‘growing up everywhere and fitting in nowhere’, which pervades Hannah’s performance. The indefinite and the uncertain are written into its very form; a mixture of monologue and spoken word, of traditional and slam poetry, the show writes across binary divisions and communicates a visionary hope for a guiding star, the ‘Polaris’ – an authoritative means by which to navigate one’s way back home.

Performed by Hannah in a tiny basement under 52 Canoes Bar, the audience sat in the soft gloom of a half-light that seemed a million miles away from the world (and music) pounding above our heads. For forty-five minutes, 'Polaris' enchanted, entertained and slowly, but powerfully, reached out to its listeners with a frankness and originality that completely won me over. The vitality of the show is perfectly sustained by the undulating rhythms of the poetry and the beauty of its composition (‘a parody of love at first sight’, a ‘scintillating slice of cinema’, ‘fracturing friend’). Throughout 'Polaris', Hannah inhabits many characters – both her varied accents and supporting mime are hugely effective – creating an impression of plurality, a cumulative layering of voices. Her performance thus establishes a dialogue that reaches far beyond the individual. Piling narrative upon narrative and weaving intimate connections between them, Hannah achieves in her one-person show an extraordinary sense of expansion. In turns comical and shocking, she lays bare her story (which she describes as her own – ‘it is mine’) in five acts, detailing her struggle to find a sense of community.

'Polaris' explores Hannah’s battle with a sense of cultural diaspora, her sexual uncertainty or ‘queerness’ and her struggle with mental health (her anxiety and depression). It fundamentally questions the extent to which such facets of one’s character or mind can define one’s identity. Dissociation takes many forms in 'Polaris' – the idea that lipstick can be used as armour, that the mind can refuse food the body hungers for, that your reflection in the shop window can be unrecognisable even to yourself. Hannah addresses these important issues with stripped-back authenticity, at no point does her simple poetry pander for effect: ‘nothing like laughter to hide sheer fear’, ‘worrying isn’t an artistic enough pain’, ‘anxiety isn’t sexy’.

The final image of the show is Hannah making friends with the women working behind the food counters at Selfridges. She appears to have found a small comfort and a little security. But despite this seeming optimism, there is a strong sense that Hannah’s ‘fear’ persists beyond the abrupt ending. Inevitably this ‘story of how you find home’ is not yet complete.

Essentially, 'Polaris' is another form of ‘coming-out’. Hannah’s Free Fringe show this August is fluidly delivered, seamlessly performed and convincingly told. It is raw, honest and highly lyrical. Please go along.

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James Tibbles

at 10:35 on 21st Aug 2017

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When I entered the small room in 52 Canoes, I was struck by how friendly and unassuming Hannah Raymond-Cox was; however, I do not wish to belittle this spoken word to anything short of hard-hitting. Raymond-Cox is an accomplished performance poet whose coming-of-age story is entirely relevant to a generation struggling with a crisis of mental health.

The monologue follows the development of a queer individual’s experience from public school-girl to university student, weaving together a captivating narrative with rhythmic and playful prose. Strong character and clever wordplay makes this an attractive choice in the Free Fringe for theatre-makers and writers alike. The execution, however, was a little uncommitted. Additional performance elements of snapping into other characters for comic effect lacked conviction and development, leaving me interested to see this piece of work in the hands of a professional actress.

Raymond-Cox nonetheless excels as a sophisticated story-teller. Imbued with opinion and grit, the show examines queerness, stereotypes and mental health in coherent long-form poetry. As the content unfolds, it becomes clear that she is a wise and worldly character supported by her experience living in Hong Kong, San Francisco and Scotland. A particularly poignant moment emerges when Raymond-Cox faces a feeling of loneliness at Christmas that is all too familiar in the 21st Century modern world. These moments of smack-in-the-face cultural references and sexual frankness are witty and important, and thwart the engrained taboos of British audiences. 'Polaris' has all the capacity to stir and challenge like a secular protest sermon for a lost generation.

Yet while I appreciated the show's attempt to bolster my understanding of Hannah’s plight, I was somewhat disappointed at the millennial cliché of the content. References to avocado love and the “waxed power fantasy of porn” are not given enough space for the infusions of wit to receive the response they deserve. Some cutting satire about the performativity of public school-girls, however, demonstrates Raymond-Cox’s relevant and wry sense of humour. Cultural jokes juxtaposed against moments of sensitivity keeps the audience fully engaged in a strong narrative arc – and these are hard to find at the fringe!

Ultimately, 'Polaris' is a short show of spoken word that is worth seeing if you have a spare half an hour. It is not particularly cutting-edge and finishes a little abruptly, but the poetic skill and passion is admirable. Raymond-Cox has huge potential to write with impact like a fist in the face.

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