Award-winning slam poet Hannah Raymond-Cox has brought her first longform live storytelling set to the Fringe. Polaris is a one-woman performance that addresses female sexuality, queer culture, and anxiety, all united by Raymond-Cox’s search for a community that she can fit into. It is a sweet and hopeful coming-of-age story that frankly discusses the hazards that come with growing up unsure of oneself.
Raymond-Cox has a very natural presence onstage, looking the audience in the eye so that it feels less like a performance than an attempt to make a genuine connection. It is as if she is confiding in us, her newly acquired friends, and it is impossible not to warm to her. Her delivery is fluid, and she embodies the different characters in her story seamlessly (and often hilariously). Her impressions of the other girls at her school, shocked at the audacity of her admitting to masturbating, are particularly comical – many will recognise that conversation from school where adolescent girls try to hide just how well they know their own bodies.
The piece is separated into five acts, with each scene showing a pivotal moment in the protagonist’s life – breaking up with her first boyfriend, coming out to her mum, and having her flatmate fall in love with her, to name a few. Tricky relationships frequently leave Hannah alone, and demonstrate to the audience just how harmful stereotypes that other people place on young girls can be. It is not easy dealing with men who would dress you up as a manic pixie dream girl, or being bisexual in a gay bar, or simply suffering from a mental illness (as Raymond-Cox wryly points out, “anxiety isn’t sexy”). The structure is a clever technical move, setting up the play to be a five-act tragedy but then segueing into a more optimistic ending. It hints that there can be a positive end in sight when you are depressed and struggling.
You can find community in the strangest of places, and in Hannah’s case it comes from interacting with women working behind the food counters in Selfridges. It is a small victory, but one that helps her feel slightly better and also able to reach out and offer company to someone else. This piece feels like one attempt to do just that. Polaris is part of PBH’s Free Fringe, and Raymond-Cox tells us at the end that half of her profits will get donated to the LGBT Trevor Hotline. By donating generously, the audience too can help young girls today feel less alone.