Lie Low @ Traverse Theatre

The UK premiere of Lie Low captures shame, interrogates culpability, and holds a mirror up to the fraught dynamics of accountability

Review by Ellen Walker | 10 Aug 2023
  • Lie Low

How do you sleep at night with a monster in the wardrobe? 

The unsettlingly dark Lie Low, written by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth and directed by Oisín Kearney, dives head first into this very question. From its opening moments we witness Faye, a vegan meat copywriter, struggle to manage flashbacks of a violent sexual assault from a masked individual hiding in her wardrobe. To the outside world, she is simply 'bothered by her nerves': unable to sleep or leave her house but encouraged to turn to pilates, plants, and other socially acceptable band-aids for pain. Desperate to take back control, she persuades her brother Naoise to take part in a novel kind of exposure therapy, echoing half-forgotten childhood games of long ago. "If I know the monster is you, I'll be less scared," Faye informs her brother. 

Culpability, victimhood, and blame occupy a nebulous terrain throughout, becoming part of an ongoing rhetorical dance mirrored in the siblings’ high-energy jitterbugs and a brass-heavy soundtrack. As secrets are revealed, musical glitches mirror the widening gulf between recollections that don't match up. As the choreography holds up a mirror to the fraught dynamics of accountability and "cancel culture", masks and mis-steps are swapped in the blink of a pas de deux

Whilst we may want villains to be as clearly labelled as the Rice Krispies Faye nervously grazes on, reality can be far more complex and, crucially, subject to change. Even when the clearest threat ostensibly lies in the memory of a faceless attacker, deeper danger perhaps comes from invisible (off-stage) institutions steeped in male entitlement. It is here that Smyth’s script comes into its own, capturing a particular type of silent, stifling shame in such a way that it seems to seep under the skin. Charlotte McCurry beautifully embodies Faye's attempts to shrink or shame herself into a less troubling form, rather than a form that is believed.

Although Lie Low attempts to shed light on both Faye and Naoise's foibles, the piece needs a more gentle steer, or perhaps less of a reliance on a certain prosthetic penis prop, to minimise the (very) real potential for disorientation and distress. Nonetheless, Lie Low is a fitting testament to the existential contortions demanded of survivors who dare to ask for help. It reminds us that recovery has no fixed form, no stable upward curve. Although unmasking assailants may bring some necessary catharsis, there is no guarantee of a happy ending: no promised land waiting on the other side of an enchanted door.

Lie Low, Traverse Theatre (Traverse 2), until 27 Aug (not 14 Aug), various times, £5-22