For the third week of Alchemist Theatre’s ‘Writers On Hold’ series, Melissa Johns presents excerpts from Snatched, the show she currently has in development with The Lowry (Theatre) in Salford. Inspired by autobiographical events, the show touches on subjects such as body dysmorphia, builmia and phone hacking – weighty material that would cover several plays. The four scenes selected for the online preview are pivotal moments in her life – in their own way quite ‘mundane’, but all in their small way shaped who she is.
The first focuses on a childhood memory, detailing the ‘strangeness’ of being on the front page of a newspaper for riding a bicycle. As someone who was born without right forearm and hand, Johns has been encouarged to get on with things – but told from time to time that she’s ‘special’. As a six-year-old child, she is perplexed at the fuss made by something all her friends had done. But this scene – as well as all the others – give clues as to her state of mind at the time, especially with regards to her self-image and how she thinks others perceive her.
The second excerpt revolves around the first sexual experience as a teenager. Of interest is the adolescent attitudes to sex at school, which Johns relays. If you start too ‘early’, you’re considered a ‘slut’. Start too late, you’re ‘frigid’. What makes this scene ‘unique’ is that it focuses on the minutiae – immediately ‘before’ and ‘afterwards’, the physical and the mental – the nature of the ‘ritual’. As someone who is now sexually-active, the narrator is in this avenue at least, ‘normal’.
Roll on the following year and we find Johns in different frame of mind in the third excerpt. Her boyfriend’s absence for a meal is met with suspicion and the more facts she unearths, the more they suggest her gut instincts are correct. Of course, being ‘right’ about ‘bad news’ leads to erroneous cognitive association of food with unhealthy consumption and later used a simulacrum for the ‘ingesting/expelling’ of negative feelings…
The final excerpt looks at Johns’ prom night and the sort of music that were considered ‘classics’ in 2006. We hear how certain songs (and dancing in general) makes it hard to cover her arm. Beyond this though, we see how Johns’ character is never fully at ease at social functions, always mindful of others’ reactions such as those of her classmates’, or even with her mother who she ‘protects’ from the truth.
From the excerpts we see that the experiences are told matter-of-factly without self-censoring or contextualising what’s divulged. The ‘narrator’ of Snatched lives in the moment and as such, speaks without embellishment about her thoughts and feelings as they happen. This is what lends it its veracity.
© Michael Davis 2020
Snatched can be viewed at: https://www.thealchemisttheatre.co.uk/snatched