Review: Hedgehog at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Remember being a teenager, when the most important thing in the world was what other people thought of you? Yep, me too. And so does Manda (Zöe Grain), the protagonist in Alexander Knott’s Hedgehog; she’s living it right now, and it’s not going so well. She’s just lost her job at the local vet – over a hedgehog, of all things – and her parents are in the slow and painful process of splitting up. Her “friends” seem barely to even tolerate let alone like her, and every time she meets a nice guy, she thinks he’s the one… until she finds out he definitely isn’t.

Photo credit: Charles Flint Photography

The problem is that it’s the 90s, she’s a teenager, and nobody’s told her that it’s okay to not be okay. So Manda puts on a smile and gets dressed up for a night out she knows she won’t enjoy, at a club she’s too young to legally be in, where she’ll down shot after shot in a futile attempt to smother her fear, loneliness and insecurity, and – even if just for a moment – to try and make sure that someone actually sees her.

Though Hedgehog is essentially a monologue and has the feel of a one-woman show, Manda is not in fact alone on stage. She’s joined throughout by “Them” (Lucy Annable and Emily Costello), who not only take on the role of all the people in Manda’s life, but also become the little whispering voices in her head that tell her she’s not good enough, not cool enough, not lovable enough. This brings Manda’s turmoil and desperate need for validation out of her head and gives it a physical manifestation that’s perfectly embodied by Lucy Annable and Emily Costello. The two of them are a constant, vibrant and versatile presence on stage, but without ever distracting from Zöe Grain’s brilliant central performance.

What makes the story of Hedgehog so sad, and at the same time such an absorbing 70 minutes of theatre, is that Manda seems great. She’s funny, caring and refreshingly down to earth, she really does look amazing in her pink prom dress, and she does an awesome Spice Girls dance routine. Grain engages fearlessly with the audience from the moment the play begins, and we like her from the off – which is why it’s so hard to watch her chasing the approval of her awful “best friend” Claire, her absent mum or her latest crush, just to make herself feel better.

Photo credit: Charles Flint Photography

Set to a soundtrack that incorporates 90s classics alongside original composition from Sam Heron and James Demaine, Hedgehog is a fast-paced and often unpredictable ride. Timelines get tangled, scenes switch in the blink of an eye, and the audience is not so much carried as dragged along with Manda as she reaches the point that will either break her or give her the fresh start she so desperately needs. The emotional climax of Georgia Richardson’s production is particularly powerful, a poignantly simple and unexpected moment of human connection that anyone who’s ever felt alone or helpless can’t fail to be moved by. Insightful, relatable and beautifully performed, this play is a must-see – and let’s hope, unlike the eponymous hedgehog, it has a long life ahead.

Hedgehog is at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 22nd June.

Interview: Random Acts Theatre, The Gog/Magog Project

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, and let me invite you into my askew little project…”

So begins The Gog/Magog Project, a dark comedy and “absurdist circus in a cage” from Random Acts Theatre, making their London debut at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Camden. More than a decade ago, Alexander Gog embarked on a radical experiment, caging himself in a theatre and delivering nightly performances from his cell for a period of one year as part of The Gog/Magog Project. Tragically, what was meant to be one year has become fifteen, with Gog moved from venue to venue, country to country, and made to survive on a diet of The Daily Telegraph and Banana-Flavoured ‘Moon Pies’.

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“Broadly speaking the show is about the lengths a person will go to for the sake of artistic expression,” explains Kate Wilson, the show’s producer, “though it is also something of a critique of much contemporary commercial theatre. Alexander Gog acts as a voice against the mundane, run of the mill plays we are so often subject to. The Gog/Magog Project is a witty social commentary with culture at its heart.”

Gog’s situation has caught the attention of civil rights authorities, who claim that he’s being exploited for the financial gain of the pharmaceutical industry, sporting goods manufacturers, and government interests, and call for his immediate release despite his seemingly voluntary imprisonment. From behind the bars of his home, Gog – played by Random Acts co-founder Adam Brummitt – takes audiences with him in “a virtuoso performance which is as unnerving as it is hilarious”.

It all sounds a bit disturbing, particularly since the show is billed as “not for the faint hearted”. Should we be scared…? “No, I don’t think so,” says Kate. “The humour is somewhat dark, and sometimes a little uncomfortable, though even as Gog’s grip on reality begins to recede the play continues to draw laughter.”

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Random Acts Theatre was founded in 2001 by Adam Brummitt and Khnemu Menu-Ra, when they were both drama undergraduates. Since then, the company has produced work consistently in St Louis, Chicago, and Exeter, where Kate came on board and helped produce the first two runs of The Gog/Magog Project. “As a company, Random Acts Theatre is dedicated to confronting issues from which people might otherwise shy away. Given this, the idea of a play which critiques mainstream theatre seemed an obvious choice. It is also an outstanding piece of writing in its own right, from a playwright whose work has not been produced in London before now.”

In fact The Gog/Magog Project is Random Acts’ first London show in their 15-year history. “We are extremely excited about the first of many shows in the capital, and the prospect of introducing audiences to a host of innovative and original productions.

The Gog/Magog Project is the perfect antidote to the sameness of many of the plays housed on the West End. Jason Lindner’s script, with Adam Brummitt’s additions, make for an entertaining and memorable evening, and one which will make viewers consider their role as an audience member.”

The Gog/Magog Project is at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 29th October.