I had a mother and have a sister, a wife, two daughters and five granddaughters so you could say that I’ve been outnumbered by women all of my life! During that time (as they would all affirm), I’ve tried to avoid talk of periods, tampons, vaginas, orgasms etc., so when I saw the synopsis of Isley Lynn’s play Skin A Cat, I thought that I was the wrong reviewer for the piece and I should let someone else do it. If I had, it would have been a big mistake as this was one of the best plays I’ve seen for a long time and I’m so glad I overcame my reservations to be there to enjoy a superb ninety minutes of theatrical gold dust.
The set is simple – just a large bed with two microphones on stands behind it. Lydia Larson as Alana enters and breaks the fourth wall and begins telling us about her character. Her story begins at the age of nine when she got her first period and how confused she was. Then Jessica Clark and Jassa Ahluwalia enter and stand behind the microphones where they will play all of the women and all of the men in Alana’s life. Clark then leaves the microphone to become Alana’s Mum and she tries to explain what a period is and why it happens. She tells her daughter that it’s all about eggs which confuses Alana even more as she equates eggs with chickens and asks her Mum “Have I got chickens?!”
We then hear about Alana’s life as a teenager as she discovers sex, and Ahluwalia becomes various fumbling boyfriends. She then goes off to university and having graduated, she gets a job, all the while discovering and exploring her sexuality with various partners. Her major problem is that she has vaginismus – the inability to have “normal” sexual intercourse which causes her all kinds of distress and angst. One of the funniest scenes is when she visits a gynaecologist played by Clark – I must admit I never thought I’d laugh out loud at an intimate female examination – but laugh out loud I certainly did!
Now this might sound like a very difficult evening at the theatre but on the contrary, it’s totally the opposite – it’s a gem of a play. The writing by Isley Lynn is funny and poignant – sometimes in the same sentence. This is the story of one girl as she discovers her body as she grows from child through puberty into adulthood but it’s a universal story and every woman will relate to some if not all of the traumas the main character goes through as she discovers that sex isn’t like you see in the movies – life rarely imitates art.
But as good as the writing is, the true star of the piece is Lydia Larson as Alana who gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from an actor for quite a while. She’s mesmerising throughout the entire ninety minutes where she never leaves the stage and delivers what is almost a monologue. She ages from 9 to 29 without any costume changes or props and yet totally inhabits the character at each stage of her life. It’s an incredibly exposing role as she not only bares her soul but is dressed in a skin-coloured leotard to denote the character’s nakedness. Larson acts with all of her body in a very difficult and revealing role but the expressive way she uses her eyes makes this performance stand out from the crowd. Clark and Ahluwalia are both excellent but they’re overshadowed a little by Larson’s tour de force.
The direction by Blythe Stewart is superb. The play is all about sex and is the writing is very graphic – there’s a lot (and I mean a lot) about anal sex! With a heavier hand at the helm, it could have been a blush-making experience but Stewart has a lightness of touch that makes the most graphic of scenes watchable. She has directed all three actors wonderfully and she draws us into Alana’s world so we laugh and cry at the character’s sexual journey.
This is the first production at The Bunker London’s newest off-West End theatre. It’s a quirky interesting space with an eclectic collection of different seating and a year ago it was a car park directly under the Menier Theatre. They’ve set the bar very high with this play but if they continue with productions of this quality, there will be two top theatres to visit in the Southwark Road.
Review by Alan Fitter
Semi-autobiographical, Skin a Cat follows Alana on an awkward sexual odyssey with a kaleidoscope of off-kilter characters: from getting her first period at nine years old and freaking out her frantic mother, to watching bad porn at a house party with her best friend’s boyfriend, to a painful examination by an overly cheery gynaecologist – all in the pursuit of losing her virginity and finally becoming a woman, whatever that means…
Skin a Cat will be the first performance at The Bunker – London’s newest underground theatre in London Bridge. The venue is set to be the capital’s latest contemporary Off-West End venue.
Skin a Cat
12th October – 5th November 2016