Image courtesy of Tom Farmer

CW: discussion of eating disorders

Where did this play come from? It opens with The Writer lamenting his complicated relationship to writing, ironic given it defines his character. He says ‘I can’t write’. Immediately, this is untrue; an emotional flood of words come out of him and fly into the audience, a wonderful preamble to a story about a boy trying to define his own narrative. It is a common feeling: not being able to express yourself, having too many emotions to struggle through, not knowing where to put them. 

I Will Delete This Story, written by Noah Wild and Joseph Simpkins, is branded as semi-autobiographical. It uses Simpkins’ childhood writings as source material which was supplemented by Wild’s own writings to create a plot. This play already has history – it’s obvious that the experiences are inspired by true events because of how raw they feel. It feels like looking at a Notes app confession from the night of your 16th birthday: slightly cringe-worthy, combined with the desire to give your past self a hug and tell them that it’ll all work out okay. You know the emotions were real at the time, and revisiting them feels like the final step in growing up.

The story hops around various events in sixth form, chronicling Sam’s (William Fitzgerald) attempts at romance whilst trying to find himself. His best friend, Kieran (James Gardner), tries to support him as Sam goes through three relationships, all with their own problems. The complicated legacy of his romance with Ruby hangs over him – no one sure whether he’s over her or not – as he attempts to have fun with Zara (Kay Kassandra), and an emotional tie with Emma (Marianne Nossair), someone who has mental health problems of her own. The way time skips around helps convey the struggle of finding your own story, the narrative disjointing just like the protagonist’s thoughts, supplemented by The Writer’s (Rei Ota) angsty monologues. The Writer’s constant presence at the back of the stage creates the illusion of being watched, portraying the disconnect between narrative and self. He is a representation of what Sam calls his ‘twin’ – his writing voice as opposed to what actions he takes.

The use of source material means that it is an authentic homage to the awkwardness that comes with growing up and the plights of sixth form – the liminal age where you’re not quite a child, not quite an adult. Wild and Simpkin’s writing is delicate and character-driven. We get to see glimpses of house parties, school, hanging out by the bus shelter during a free period. These moments are excellently supported by props: the classic party red cup, student lanyards. Even the dreaded CGP textbooks, diligently placed on laps as they try to figure out that last homework assignment. The characters felt like the people I knew at my time in sixth form, and mirrored the inner experience of that tumult of emotions. The feelings of the main character come spilling out in the stage itself; the furniture on the stage is written over with The Writer’s words in bold black writing against white wood, an eye-catching addition.

However, it is also the staging that sometimes breaks the immersion. The setting of the local sixth form is clear enough, but other than that the space seems unsure of the specifics of what it’s meant to be. A few scenes occurred at parties but the emptiness around the central characters made it hard to believe. Characters come and go but their entrances and exits aren’t explained – there is no sense of clarity as to why they are where they are or where they are going. The centrality of Sam means the other characters orbit around him which make it difficult to imagine they have lives of their own. They have serious conversations and it’s unclear whether they’re trying to communicate in an empty classroom or whether the school day has ended altogether. The play seems so personal to the writers and director it often feels as if the vision hasn’t been communicated effectively for those who weren’t there when it happened. It begs the question of what’s missing – more explanation of the abstract monologues of The Writer, perhaps, or more moments of discussion between characters about what is happening; a more overt reference to the bigger picture.

Which is a shame, since the play is often entertaining and has some important relatable moments about mental health and the pains of becoming an adult. One of the events that Sam struggles with is his sister’s eating disorder, something that seems to define his narrative even if it didn’t happen directly to him. This, as well as the self-loathing that comes with his affinity for hurting people – he often uses his partners for sex and forgets about their emotional needs –  happens alongside his struggles with depression, lamenting at the beginning of the play that even his suicide note isn’t written well, showing the connection between his mental state and a desperation to write his own story. 

At one point in the play, rubbish is thrown around the stage, scattered over the floor in heaps and piles. Sam sits amongst the debris whilst Emma attempts to clear it up, stuffing empty packages and papers into rubbish bags. Her attempts are thwarted though: with every bag she fills, another one is emptied. She rushes around, desperate, clawing at the waste around her. It is no use. She sits at the back of the stage, her head in her hands. It is heartbreaking to watch. When we broke for the intervaI right after, I reflected on whether it truly was emotional or just an overwhelming sensory experience, with the loud music and the sparse stage being so overrun. It was only at the end of the second half, when Sam spreads photographs of his childhood around him, that I fully appreciated the scene from earlier. It communicated the messiness of this time of life and how there’s so much to contend with. The parallel of the two scenes enabled me to appreciate them in tandem, showing the growth of the characters but also the lack of resolution, still surrounded by symbols of what they’re struggling with. When the play ended, I was left with a lot to think about. Overall, It was a performance which seemed lacking as I walked out of the theatre, but got better as time went on and I thought more about it; one that will be on my mind longer still.

With special thanks to the production.