“A brave, brave, brave, brave…brave” play.
What would you do if one day you got a phone call and were told that your online accounts had been hacked, your private photos got leaked, and they were going to be published in the tabloids? That your family, childhood friends, and colleagues will all see them?
Henry V, Grantchester, former Coronation Street and Life star Mellisa Johns’ answer was taking control of the narrative by telling her story in her latest autobiographical play, Snatched. The one-woman show finally premiered at The Lowry after being delayed by the pandemic. It was directed by the visionary Lily Levin, who did justice to Johns’ incredible script, in which she shares her childhood memories of growing up as a working-class girl in a small town… with a disability.
However, Snatched is not about being different. It is about being made different. It is about social ignorance, abuse, judgment, bullying, and betrayal. But most importantly, it is about overcoming them and learning how to accept, embrace, and love ourselves again.
Sadly, what happened to Johns is not unprecedented. Talented actresses fall victim to online predators every year: Pamela Anderson, Emma Watson, Kate Hudson, Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Lawrence… the list goes on and on. By shining a light on misogyny, body shaming, and the heavy weight of words, Snatched unapologetically breaks down the taboos of female sexuality in the form of an audiovisual diary.
Although Johns’ body also became ‘public property’ against her will overnight, it was her choice to open up to us and allow us to see the depths of the human soul, which is the very essence of true art. Indeed, the core of the night’s magic was its realness that we, as a society in the shallow world of social media’s facade, crave so much: the unfiltered, uncensored, raw human experience that reveals the many shades of the psyche.
It would be difficult to describe Snatched as anything less than an emotional roller-coaster with beautifully crafted monologues, perfectly timed puns, and heartbreaking moments that literally made the auditorium laugh and weep at the same time. However, they were not tears of pity, as Johns did not create this masterpiece to feel sorry for herself or to get any sympathy. We cried because we got to know someone’s dreams, memories, feelings, heartbreaks, insecurities, strengths, anger, hopes, happiness, courage, weaknesses, fears, sense of humour, confidence, desires, guilt, sarcasm, sensuality, resilience, vulnerability, and disappointments. Normally, it would take a lifetime to get to know someone on this level, but here, it all happened within just eighty intimate minutes.
The multi-instrumentalist Imogen Halsey’s enchanting voice in the background perfectly mixed with Johns’ front-stage narrative: the nostalgic songs of the ‘90s and ‘00s created an ambience that gave goosebumps to those who grew up in that era, including me. The stage by Sophia Simensky (design) and Katrin Padel (lights) became a storytelling time machine: by projecting Johns’ personal photos and videos, not only did we listen to her anecdotes, but this set-up also allowed us to be in the middle of her stories physically. However, there was also an ingenious balance between involving the audience as part of the act and then turning us into the gazing, peeping, staring, watching, spectating eyes that Johns has had to endure since the day she was born for her disability and, after her photos got leaked, for her sexuality.
Johns, an inspirational activist, continues to prove that an actor who happens to be disabled can play just as many roles as those who are not: a daughter, a sister, a lover, a victim, a heroine, a champion. There is so much more to this story than I care to spoil. I cannot encourage everyone enough to get a ticket and watch Melissa Johns’ empowering show.
Snatched tours the UK until the beginning of July.