Review: Blis-ta (Clean Break, online)

Written by Sonya Hale, who died six months ago, Blis-ta is a fierce final work from a playwright known for her honest, hard-hitting yet poetic scripts, laced with her trademark vocal style and pockets of humour even in the darkest of places.

Kat and Cherry are two young homeless women who meet on the streets. Although Kat is the toughest on the surface, and Cherry is a bit naive, they turn out within the narrative of Blis-ta to be more alike than they think. The bulk of the play is on the periphery of what is really happening, a kind of part hallucination, part fantasy.

The brutal reality of the streets and the way women in particular can easily turn to crime to survive comes through in the bluntness of the language and the matter-of-fact way that using and abusing yourself and others is discussed throughout the play.

When men appear (aside from one) they are the takers, the gatekeepers, the ones with all the cards. As Kat and Cherry engage in a quieter reflection of what might have been, were they not estranged from their families and struggling to make ends meet, there is a definite strength of sisterhood. Blis-ta sisters twisted together in love.

Portrait of Sonya Hale, the writer of Blis-ta
Sonya Hale

Even when they develop a business proposition for girls into a reality, albeit a grimy one, the men still seem to call the shots as they provide the punters – the girls who turn tricks are dehumanised as ‘Glasses’, ‘Filthy Beryl’ or ‘Angel’. Despite this, Kat and Cherry are fully-rounded characters who are treated with some understanding and perception by Hale’s writing.

As a former addict and homeless person herself, who had first hand experience with the life depicted in Blis-ta, she was ideally placed to bring these issues (addiction, violence, assault, state inertia, neglect) to the table. With Blis-ta presented as an audio drama, you can concentrate on what is being said with the minimum of sound effects and underscoring.

Director Róisín McBrinn teases out the beauty in what is on the surface a tawdry and sad tale, although I found the ending a little too bleak for my taste and slightly predictable. Ambreen Razia and Ria Zmitrowicz are excellent as the two girls trying to find stability in a bad situation, and Helen Skiera‘s sound design is unassuming yet essential.

Blis-ta has been made freely available on Clean Break’s website.

Check out my review of a previous production by Clean Break at the Donmar Warehouse, [BLANK].