The Drowned Girl
Written and performed by Kelly Jones
The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick
Director: Anna Poole
Kelly Jones’s one woman play which opened at The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick, is a journey into the childhood memories of the Wales based writer. Jones is an emerging playwright on the Cardiff scene and this is the first time that her work has been produced outside the Welsh capital. It’s a play which Jones developed through National Theatre Wales WalesLab and it’s a brave performance in an echoing theatre space created within a disused warehouse.
Mermaids and cornflakes feature prominently in Jones’s childhood. From an early age, she believed she was meant to be sitting on a rock in the sea at Southend, combing her long hair. Experiments with cornflake boxes wrapped around her legs with gaffer tape and the indulgence of her beloved Nan encouraged her belief. Swimming through the underwater wonderlands created by Nan from yet more cornflake boxes, Jones knew that when she eventually had the opportunity to truly swim, her legs would finally transform into a mermaids tail. When that moment arrives and she leaps confidently into the deep end of a swimming pool we share her experience of drowning. It’s that moment of realization; when dreams are broken; when the child learns the truth about Santa Claus; when innocence is broken by the brutality of truth. This is a play about coming of age.
Somewhere along the way, Jones has lost her mermaid skin and developed a fear of water. She captures the grief at losing Nan when she is eight years old. She eats through her teenage years hiding her loss with jam tarts. Finally, as a student, she again tries to find her mermaid skin and walks into the sea at Swansea. The poignancy of the sea’s rejection, spitting her out, naked, back onto the shore makes for a moving performance. We are left wondering whether this is a suicide attempt or drunken foolishness. There’s an honesty to the writing. Jones wrestles with the fantasy of a perfect vision of herself and the reality of her stretch-marked skin. When she squeezes into a sequin spangled mermaid skirt we are moved by her broken dreams.
Director Anna Poole makes use of a minimalist set, forcing Jones to take possession of a large armchair to deliver her performance. A spillage of cornflakes across the stage cleverly mimics the sound of waves washing over pebbles, as they are steadily ground underfoot. Occasionally, the narrative is a touch too expositional; one of the dangers of the monologue, and while there is a bleakness in the story it is leavened by moments of unexpected humor. It is clear that Jones’s childhood was infused with love. What is particularly refreshing about this story is it’s telling through the relationship between granddaughter and grandparent. Kelly Jones has a different way of looking at the world and it will be interesting to see what she devises next.