One Night. Four People Your City. No Sleep. One Actor… and it is this solo aspect, that I’d like to focus on in this piece, responding to Hester Ullyart’s play The Ballad of Paragon Station, performed over two nights at Hull Truck Studio.
In stringent times plays may often have dramatically reduced casts, with actors doubling up playing multiple roles. This isn’t that, despite the obvious stringent times, so what effect does one person playing all four characters have on the storytelling, and how do they persuade the audience to suspend their disbelief so that it works.
For Hester to be able to play all four roles, she has to embody them, perhaps not completely but with enough otherness to access something else within her, and for us the audience to believe she is now someone else.
Subtle shifts in body position allow her to become Frances a young gay man, out on the pull in Hull’s less salubrious nightspots: a sway of the hips, the ubiquitous parka worn off the shoulders, a lilt in the voice and a tilt of the baker boy cap.
As Rachel she is lit side on, head tilted beseechingly as brilliant white light illuminates half her face allowing her to take on a different appearance, and there in that cold unfeeling light we believe she is isolated trapped by her own fears. For the majority of the play Stacey K is pregnant, Hester avoids the falsehood of the cushion up the jumper and chooses to instead to tenderly cradle her belly, just as a mum to be would do. Again deft use of lighting by Lighting Designer Jess Addinall identifies that we are some place new, inside Stacey’s flat the shuttered light throws bars of orange across her face, representing the fake warm glow of streetlights through window blinds.
Jamie is portrayed all shoulders and swagger, hands rammed deep into pockets, the hat reversed to resemble a beanie hat, creating an air of danger even menace. Jamie’s words the rhythm and way he speaks them are unmistakably laddish.
Holding on to all the threads is a narrator, Hester again, delivering complex and colloquial verse steeped in character and local Hull colour. By choosing to play all the parts herself, Hester injects an extra layer of intensity to the work, by suddenly switching character, the audience can be jolted in exhilarating fashion into another conscious. There is also something important in the fact the characters never meet and interact on stage together in a traditional sense, that makes them simultaneously less defined but gives them more autonomy and vitality. Experiencing the Ballad of Paragon Station is to have the memories of these four seared on the brain, only to then release them in the cool air of morning.