45North’s first series of audio dramas, collated as Written on the Waves, ends with Marika McKennell’s Cunch, a story of two teenage girls who get themselves involved in drug pushing and gangland culture. We first meet them on a train heading from London to the countryside, to an unnamed location, but one towards which they pass “yellow fields”.
Janie (played by McKennell) is the slightly older, more experienced of the two, the leader. Lolita (played by Alice Vilanculo) is a year younger, perhaps in awe of this mysterious world into which she has been invited. Both treat their journey as an adventure, but as the play unfolds, we feel an increasing, throbbing tension as these young women find themselves closer to danger in a world where “girls have no status”.
There are just two other actors in the cast, playing multiple roles: Dominic Applewhite is both a wannabe gang king and a nervous drug buyer; Katy Secombe is a breezy dog walker on a bus, a woodland witch, and a helpful receptionist. Janie and Lolita think themselves old enough to manage on their own, heading for “bigger things than college” but appear out of their depth in the situations which they meet.
Their lack of countryside knowledge when they meet a sheep birthing a lamb, their reliance on the cushion of childhood fairy tales, and their acceptance of harsh realities (“my boyfriend keeps a dog for fighting”) give them a rounded sense of characterisation rather than just two bad girls headed for destruction.
The reality for a woman growing up in “the ‘hood” is very starkly underlined. Janie’s boyfriend uses her for his trades, and she has already seen things which she wants to forget. The fate of a girl seen on an earlier trip is never fully resolved, and the lack of trust between anyone in the chain means death is always just a step away.
The sound design by Laura Howard gives a definite sense of time, place, and atmosphere, while Thomas Bailey’s direction keeps the tension high while allowing some moments of humour to float along the surface. Although both the main characters are involved in bad things, they are people we can like and identify with.
We don’t know for sure if they are going to be OK, but we hope that the final scene gives a chink of light which they can move towards.
Image credit: Rebecca Pitt
You can access Cunch and the other plays in Written on the Waves here.
A second series of audio work will begin on 27 May, releasing a new piece every two weeks until 5 August.