Back for a second run, Maz Hedgehog’s play, Let Me Count the Ways, blends monologue with poetry in this one-woman show about mental health, blackness, queerness and beauty.
Maz Hedgehog is a poet whose spoken word poems have been performed at venues such as The Manchester International Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at theatres up and down the country. Let Me Count the Ways is Hedgehog’s first full-length show and takes its name from the opening lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, ‘How do I love thee? (Sonnet 43)‘.
This one-person show is a lyrical exploration of love and relationships, touching on themes of mental health, womanhood, blackness, queerness and beauty. Maz Hedgehog is both writer and performer, weaving poetry and monologue into this honest and introspective piece of theatre. The rhythmic quality to her speech is immediately familiar to anyone who knows her spoken word work. She dips in and out of gentle softness and fierceness as she feels the weight of her words and allows the audience to feel it too.
The set is that of a messy bedroom full of empty bottles of alcohol, cigarette packs and general paraphernalia. This was conceived by director Faye Draper, who said that she immediately saw the play set in a bedroom. The setting and presence of only one person onstage reflects the reality of the past eighteen months we have all spent with various degrees of social restrictions placed upon us. It has been an isolating time and very much on the minds of the creative team. The performer makes use of the space, moving from table to bed to chair. The space is changed and moved, rubbish being thrown away in a bin, mirroring the character’s progress and changing state.
Mythology, fantasy and folklore are constant inspirations for Hedgehog’s work. With this show, the surreal and mythic slides into and dances with realism. Looking at the show in two halves, the first delves deeper into the experimental and unconventional, while the second holds tightly onto a realistic representation. There are many tales that speak to anyone who is a woman, black, or plus-sized. There is a great universality in the specifics of the story being told. One moment that particularly stands out is when the Hedgehog recounts the times that her mother used to plait her hair and would sometimes pull a little too tightly. Those memories are my childhood and the childhoods and even adulthoods of many others.
Music has an important role in the play, providing an atmosphere around Hedgehog’s words. Music designer Alpha Twang has created a layered soundscape that moves from wavy sonic sounds to delicate off-beat rhythms. Twang has found a way for the music to add another layer of emotion to the piece, appearing at more surrealist moments. The opening scene sees Hedgehog slowly start to break down as she types unknown words on a tablet. Here, the music is the voice of the character as she soundlessly sobs. It is a shame that, at times, the sound drowns out the softly-spoken words of the performer. It is unclear whether this was a conscious choice or a technical issue; however, I felt that it would have been nice to hear the voice coming through the soundscape as it would have aided in understanding.
In the final part of the play, Hedgehog speaks directly to the audience speaking words of encouragement and motivation. She is calling for self-love and advocating for change. She is asking her audience to move towards the mindset that she is on the path to, the mindset where we love and appreciate ourselves. She is giving us hope.
The creative team have said that this show is a work-in-progress with developments to come. There are ideas to evolve the sound and incorporate more movement and physical theatre elements. It is exciting to see what is to come from this show and how the play evolves with the new expansions the creative team are already dreaming up.
Maz Hedgehog’s Let Me Count the Ways is showing at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, from 6-8 July, with the 7 July showing online. Click here for more information and to book tickets. Follow Maz on Twitter and Instagram.