Like many of Lucy Kirkwood’s plays, It Felt Empty… explores a huge contemporary problem with an ideal balance of humour and tragedy. In this bold production, we follow the life of Dijana, a young Croatian woman who is tricked by her boyfriend Babac into thinking she is going to the UK for holiday, but instead becomes embroiled in a dark plot that leads to sexual trafficking. The play takes us through different stages of Dijana’s life, each time addressed to the young daughter whom Babac has separated her from.
Although much of the magic in this piece lies in the brilliant writing, right casting is crucial to its success: director Lauren Jackson could not have chosen a better actor for the role of Dijana. With her charming face and stunning delivery, Natalie Woodward was the perfect fit. Apart from spending over an hour on the stage alone without making a single mistake (an immense achievement on its own), she created a character full of both childish naivety and sexual maturity.
The authenticity of Dijana is so strong that it is impossible to not to empathize with her, the audience is left laughing at some bits of the play and crying at the others. Lauren takes us on a journey of which we are active participants, never passive observers. Perhaps the key to Lauren’s performance was her breathtaking awareness of and connection to her body; the comfort and engagement she displayed in a sex scene with an invisible client left me speechless.
Although only present in one scene, Shannon Hayes contributes equally to the play, marvelously portraying the two sides of Gloria, Dijana’s Nigerian cellmate. As she transitions from friendly to clingy, Hayes leaves the audience unsure of whether or not they can like her. The stark contrast between a scared Dijana and bubbly Gloria emphasizes amazingly Dijana’s struggle to fit into the situation she has found herself in.
The intimacy of the piece was brought out by Jackson’s decision to stage the play in promenade: the audience is free to explore the entire space and sit wherever they wish. Lauren moves between different parts of the small Pilch Studio, and we literally follow her around. We begin to feel as if she is speaking directly to us, and are brought even closer to the confusion and nonlinearity of her monologue.
Without doubt, It Felt Empty is a must-watch this week. With a fantastic cast and flawless design, this visceral, engaging production explores a real-life problem which will pass unnoticed by most of us. All the profits will go to a charity that helps women going through the criminal justice system: Jackson’s production provokes our thought but also our action to help combat the problem it addresses. I’d recommend booking a ticket as soon as possible – because they’re selling fast!