As Lucy (Emma Bentley) grows up, she seems a somewhat unusual kid – keeps her head down in school, a little bit lonely but able to stand up for herself. What Goes On In Front Of Closed Doors highlights that it’s not all drug addicts or those in abusive relationships who end up on the streets. Sometimes you’ve just been dealt a bad hand. With an absent Dad and a recently deceased Mum, Lucy (Bentley) is barely an adult when she’s forced to face the harshness of the world alone. It’s too much to deal with.
Bentley speaks simply and bluntly about things that she feels are different about her – it’s a convincing performance of restrained, almost disconnected, emotional apathy. There’s some embarrassment, but little shame – a refreshing perspective for a young girl, or the sign that everything is being internalised. People tell her that she has hairy arms; her mum buys her clothes she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing on a girl’s holiday; she gets told she’s hilarious in an obviously ironic fashion by her friends. All this we see as outsiders from another perspective, watching Lucy through live camera feeds strung up around the stage. Often the TV screens are fuzzy and it’s difficult to pick out detail, but we get the overall feeling for the action.
Bentley uses some clever devices to decorate her plain-spoken language and emphasise the downward spiral her character is dragged into. A model box represents the home that she locks herself in, hiding from the world’s problems when her mother passes away. Even Bentley, as she narrates, peers through the windows into this tiny piece of security, a giant observing life through a set of curtains as we do through the webcam on the other side. It makes it easy to disconnect from the protagonist’s predicament, highlighting how we as society distance ourselves from the homeless that we pass on the streets, the invisible pieces of our community.
Everything boils down to one horrendous night. With nowhere to stay and a storm raging through the air, Bentley (still intentionally lacking in emotion) aptly describes the most fundamental of problems that we take for granted every day – having a roof to keep us dry, food in our belly and a toilet to shit in without feeling degraded. This is a harrowing low point in a play that every so often reminds us how young Lucy is by Bentley’s frank and heartfelt script. But it also shows off her ingenuity too; Tinder becomes a modern-day saving grace as a way to keep dry and out of the rain for a little while. All it costs is offering up sex and promiscuity, where’s the harm in that…
The ending to What Goes On In Front Of Closed Doors comes abruptly, a seemingly rash decision by Luna to jump and end it all. She survives, but we as the audience lose a connection to her, we don’t understand her thought process to come to that desperate, final attempt. Maybe there isn’t one noticeable thing, maybe it’s simply the culmination of all the little things that forces Luna’s hand. Who can say why people end up homeless, what drives them to such acts of desperation – Luna (Bentley) can barely recognise herself anymore, so how is she meant to explain it all?
What Goes On In Front Of Closed Doors plays Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.