Well-performed but disappointingly misdirected, Poison, Hate & Vitrol offers a kaleidoscopic and sometimes thrilling glance down the pipeline of far-right radicalisation, fake news and how it alters family life. When left-wing journalist, Jaz, creates a vitriolic, hate-spreading persona called Sharon, she soon finds herself with her own TV show. Needing someone to fill in for the role, he turns to his jaded stay-at-home mum wife Kelly for help. It isn’t long before Sharon begins to take on a life of her own, and hate becomes fate for this pair of star-crossed lovers. Handling themes of journalistic integrity and how televised hate can rip families apart, the show has a solid goal, but misses the mark in making an impact on its’ audience.
Jaz, a Guardian writer, believes he has found the scoop of his life when he comes up with the idea of exposing big media corporations for supporting hate. Creating Sharon, he begins blasting people on Twitter, and it isn’t long before his ex-careerist wife Kelly chimes in with her own views on how Sharon should spread her misery. The pair work together to target and blast racial minorities, queer people, Trans people and refugees to gain as much attention as they can. Meanwhile, their young child needs looking after, and competing priorities put a strain on Jaz and Kelly’s marriage. Through a framing device showing Kelly at couples counselling, we reflect back on the tumultuous tumble with an inevitable end both for Sharon and the couple’s marriage.
The performances have their highs and their troughs – although the characters have clear story arcs the repetitive nature of scenes soon becomes a little agonising. Moments of disruption – such as Sharon getting her own TV show and Jaz throwing boxes of Lego around the stage – are thankfully needed to break up the myriad scenes taking place at the family dinner table. The story and script have a clear progression, but the play does not need to be anywhere near its current 90 minute run time. The solid moments which show the strain on Jaz and Kelly’s marriage could be favoured in place of superfluous scheming and drawn out references to Kelly’s past life as a Journalist, as neither particularly propel the story towards it’s end.
A hysterical Philip Schofield impression halfway alleviates, and in general the scenes which emulate the Piers Morgan Good Morning Britain environment offer solid comedic relief, before descending and twisting into a vile spew of hatred from Sharon. Vikesh Godhwani’s direction here does well to centralise how stochastic hate crime operates and how hate figures on TV act as beacons and catalysts for depraved individuals to further an atmsophere of hatred. Amy Guyler’s script takes solid turns, but as aforementioned is far too long to keep our attention in place for the central message of the piece. The marriage drama and Sharon stories can sometimes seem like two different plays happening at the same time, even if they are somewhat intertwined by a thin thread. The shift from Nursery Rhyme-esque language at the start of the piece into standard dialogue by the end is a little too rich, and neither quite compliment one another.
Production design elements in the show have clearly been done with a great amount of focus – computeristic sound effects and spotlights highlight important objects and moments on stage. Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of these is sometimes infuriating, as every five minutes we hear the same doorbell-esque sound effect to highlight when the couple’s child has entered the room. These are stylistic, but do little to provide clarity. At other points, the effort in designing the show to reflect technology have worked, as stark lighting switches and sets for TV shows evoke the correct imagery instantly in the audience’s minds.
After a full 90 minutes, it isn’t clear how the message of the piece has progressed from the moment that Jaz introduces the concept of Sharon at the start. Sharon does not expose anything that Jaz doesn’t say right at the beginning. Sharon’s eventual impact on the marriage, demonstrated in the final scenes, is a strong moment yet the marriage story has felt very detached from the core concept of the piece up until this point.
Poison, Hate & Vitriol is in a muddle right now, and it could easily be scooped out of it. Shave 30 minutes of repetitive scenes off, provide more variety in the lighting and sound effects to maintain our attention, and whittle the script to centre the Sharon narrative in the marriage story. The performances are full of great moments, and the intentions of the piece are clear. This is a functional play at the moment, but not much more, and it could deliver a punchy message that’s buried underneath its’ thick veneer.
A side note, filling a flyer from top to bottom with four and five star reviews from a previous show, as Chalk Line Theatre have done, is not transparently selling your show. The flyer is a space to tell us about the show we’re going to see, not to boast about what has come before.
Recommended Drink: Poison, Hate & Vitriol is most similar to a White Russian – frothy and a little too opaque to settle well in your mouth.
Want to see if you disagree? Catch Poison, Hate & Vitriol at VAULT Festival until Sunday 5th March at 18:30. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.