Hot Mess: Reviewed



It’s twenty-five minutes since Hot Mess has ended. I’m in the library. I should be doing an essay, but I’m not. I should be writing a review.


I have two siblings: let’s call them Jess and Chris. They’re twins – just turned nineteen this march. Chris was in London, doing a foundation course, and Jess was in France, working at a Ski Lodge. This was the first time in nineteen years that they weren’t together for their birthday. Before, my sister was talking to my mum about it on the phone. My mum, as mothers tend to do, told her that she understood what she was going through. This may have been the first year that my mum was away from my siblings on their birthday too. But my sister insisted that she didn’t understand.

“You don’t know the feeling. You’ve not been a twin.”


I can’t help but talk about Hot Mess, written by Ella Hickson, directed here by Joanna Bowman, in anything but personal terms. I can’t be objective – and since Hot Mess, which went up in Club 601, was a one-time performance – I can’t ask someone else to do the job for me.

Hot Mess, you see, is a bit hard to pin down. I laughed a lot, so you could call it a comedy. I cried, so you could call it a tragedy. In fitting with Joanna Bowman’s other plays, like Crave and The Wasteland, you wouldn’t be wrong in calling it a Horror. But I kind of think it’s best to call Hot Mess a myth – a modern ancient Greek myth. Like many Greek Myths, it’s a story about an island, the ocean, lovers, and a set of twins who share one heart between the two.


I’m two years older than Jess and Chris. It’s odd being the elder brother to twins. They can hate each other, they can shout at each other, they can not want to look at each other, but if 19 years of being their brother has taught me one thing, it’s that I will never have a relationship of quite that particular brand of intensity. It’s something you can only observe, because you’ve not been a twin.


Polo and Twitch (played by Seb Allum and Suzanna Swanson-Johnston respectively) are such twins, with Polo having no heart, and Twitch having just a bit too much. Centring on the events that follow Polo’s return to the Island where he grew up, Hickson’s script serves primarily as an exploration of the nature of love, whether romantic, sexual, platonic or familial. Unfolding in a non-linear fashion, the play simultaneously branches out the dreamlike past of the siblings, whilst following the pair’s interactions with Jacks (Helena Jacques-Morton) and Billy (Jared Liebmiller).


Most of the first nine years of my life were spent on a small island in the English Channel named Jersey. It’s where my brother and sister were born. It may not be five miles by two, like the island in Hot Mess, but everyone pretty much knew everyone. We left when I was nine to move to England for a year, and then on to Edinburgh (where I was born) when I was ten. We go back, sometimes, in the summer, and although it’s great to see old friends, it’s never really the same.


I’m going to place my bet here – there may very well not be a better play in St Andrews this semester. Hot Mess is the play to beat. Despite some sound and blocking issues, that hindered me from enjoying all the actors’ performances to their full extent (which can be forgiven in most part due to the unfortunate late game forced venue change), Hot Mess is a resounding success. With quality performances from all the cast, and a visually astute set and light design, Bowman has shown once again shown us why she is quite probably the best director in St Andrews. Theatre in St Andrews is good, I would generally say. Bowman’s theatre is just better.


I’ve reviewed two other Joanna Bowman plays – the aforementioned Crave and The Wasteland – and while I liked both of them, and even loved them in parts, I had my reservations. I still can’t figure out whether or not I think Crave is actually a play, or whether plays need narratives to be plays, and while I liked The Wasteland, I think the transitory nature of hearing a poem spoken out loud doesn’t serve the source material best. I have no such reservations about Hot Mess. When I first started reviewing, my editor at the time, Joe Cunningham, had a document explaining the star rating system – for five stars I believe the adage went:

“It makes you laugh, It makes you cry, and, heck, it might just even teach you something”

I dare anyone not to laugh at Jacques-Morton’s performance. Swanson-Johnston made me cry. One choice interaction between Allum and Jacques-Morton was certainly the most horrifying thing I’ve seen in St Andrews. And by the end, I had even learned a little something. See, whilst both of my siblings have hearts, are pretty normal and have never been involved in suspicious accidents – I’ve never really understood (or perhaps adequately thought about) that relationship. It’s now been almost two hours since I’ve seen Hot Mess – and I’ve put in that thought. The show may not have been for everyone, but I don’t know what more I could ask from student theatre – or for any theatre for that matter. For those of you who didn’t get to see it, I hope they put the show on again at a later date. Heck, they should be doing a tour of the highlands and islands, playing every pubs and clubs from here to John O’ Groats.


Student theatre is a place for people to learn. It’s a hot bed of raw talent. Some stuff’s good, some not so good. Its hard, at times, to know how to judge it – what to compare it up against. Well, Sonder Theatre have solved that problem for me. Hot Mess is my new measuring stick.

Hot Mess is a part of On the Rocks, running April 1-10th.