“I wanted to kill you so they couldn’t take you away from me”.
As the audience enters the studio, photographs appear on the wall, a slideshow marking a young couple’s happy memories. Laughing on the beach, running through cornfields, smiling at a summer’s picnic. There are pensive pictures too, gazing into the distance, relaxed but not melancholy. The slideshow is accompanied by the sort of music you’d hear on an advert for Kodak: light, happy, nostalgic, and saccharine.
But when the music and photographs fade, the characters snap into life. The same couple fly at each other from opposite ends of the stage, hurling themselves into a viscous scrap. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the placid photographs-it’s harsh, brutal, painful, erotic and dangerously passionate.
As Skin Tight unfolds, so does the story of the couple’s turbulent life together: from one extreme to the other, and all the complications and shades of grey in between. They’re portrayed as a young couple, but as time passes and tales from their history are related, it becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. As playwright Gary Henderson describes, Tom and Elizabeth are “An ordinary couple with an extraordinary love relive their darkest secrets, deepest passions and heart breaking truths.”
It’s a brave piece, where the actors’ skills and mettle are pushed to their limits: playing the couple, Angela Bull and John Schumacher certainly rise to the challenge. In one scene, Elizabeth (Bull), places the blade of her husband’s penknife into her mouth, allowing him to control her movement with the knife’s handle. While perhaps inducing panic, possibly even nausea, in the audience, their ability to move in perfect synergy indicates the couple’s incredible trust and knowledge of one another. “We know each other too well”, Tom (Schumacher) remarks.
In the lifetime of a partnership, there are innumerable emotions, and Skin Tight packs a multitude into its one-hour duration. The way love throws rational thinking out of the window, the way it takes hold and refuses to let go, the way it induces anger, frustration, jealousy and heartbreak. The tenderness and silent support, the partnership, the bond. The shared experience, and the ways of coping when the roller coaster is at its most frightening. The joys and the crushing sorrows. All are present in this intense performance directed by Jemma Gross. The plot is at points a little far-fetched, but the fight scenes are particularly convincing, a testament to the skill of the actors and the choreography of fight director Dan Styles.
Both leads were excellent as strong, passionate lovers. However, they sometimes suffered from being overly passionate: in a scene describing men coming home from war, Bull expressed her anguish dramatically: it may have been more effective to play the section with a quieter sadness and sense of futility, which would have allowed her audience to empathise. Nevertheless, individual elements including a beautiful folk duet allowed Bell and Schumacher to recapture their audience, and the poignant closing scene doubtless brought a lump to many a throat.
Skin Tight is brought to the Park Theatre by Epsilon Productions, and forms part of the inaugural season at this smart new theatre in north-east London. The play runs until 11th August.
Review by Emma Slater
Friday 19th July 2013