1 in 6 men have been sexually abused or assaulted. This statistic lays the foundation for an impressive debut play by Luke Stapleton, Mycorrhiza.
Mycorrhiza, (pronounced ‘mike-oh-rize-a’) is the process between plants and fungus as they support one another to improve their wellbeing. The play uses this relationship (as well as tracks by Dido) as a metaphor for the duty people owe their fellow human to good effect.
It begins with Alicia (Corrina Buchan), a fiery girl with thick amour wrapped up in her coat awaiting a friend when instead, Dean (Scott Afton), small and kind but desperate to be a man, appears. They’re around nineteen and it’s apparent from the off that this play will revolve around friendship and overcoming traumas – together.
Next, Alicia and Dean are two happy go lucky teenagers, skiving off school with seemingly innocent intentions. That is until Alicia reveals, she has a secret.
For the duration of ninety minutes we constantly flick between the two timelines. Aged thirteen, Dean has no worries in his life but by nineteen there is an anxious anger within him. Opposite, Alicia is an agitated teen. Even during moments of happiness, it’s clear she’s holding something back. Six years later, there’s little improvement.
Themes such as; mental health, friendship, victim culture, toxic masculinity, growing up and rape are all explored. This may sound like it’s going to be a depressing evening. However, the acting, writing and directing (Sepy Baghaei) creates a dark comedy, never making light of the material and always keeping it human.
With no set design other than a rock, the two actors are brilliant. They were able to convey emotions and expressions that make the audience feel the pain of growing up through trauma. It is impossible not to be compelled by their friendship and to feel distress when they expose their secrets. While there was nothing between the two, the most mesmerising scene was undoubtedly when Dean told the story of his rape – a beautifully performed monologue that left the audience biting their nails and squeezing their legs together.
For such a small play, the standard was very high. Performed within the Space (an art centre in the Isle of Dogs), it deserves to be championed. As the Foreword Festival (where this play was born) continues, there is no doubt that the forthcoming plays have a tough act to follow.