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5 Star review of SPINE at Soho Theatre Upstairs

Rosie Wyatt in Spine
Rosie Wyatt in Spine
Photo by Richard Davenport

Winning an award at the Edinburgh Fringe is impressive; winning three awards is outstanding! Edinburgh has thousands of shows vying for the attention of visitors during the month of August each year and ‘Spine’ won three awards this summer – a Fringe First; a Stage Award for Acting Excellence; a Herald Award. I was in for a treat!

The Soho Theatre is a major creator of new theatre, producing new plays, new work and presenting new emerging theatre companies. Clara Brennan, the writer of ‘Spine’, works as a resident writer for the theatre this year and has set up a company, FoolsCap, with the play’s producer, to craft “politically conscious new work”. This may make ‘Spine’ sound potentially heavy and hard work for non-political audience members but it is funny, witty and a piece of great theatre. Yes, it is gritty and rude and uncomfortable at times but it is always exciting, galvanising and entertaining.

‘Spine’ is a one woman monologue and Rosie Wyatt, playing the rebellious, teenage Amy, never disappoints. From the moment she enters she takes charge of the space and is mesmerising. She is sharp, witty and angry, so angry! She is angry with her parents, her friends, her boyfriend, her life and the state of the world in general. She enters a dark stage, a small space, and around her seem to be dark piles of items, maybe boxes and crates. She talks directly to the audience, telling us about her troubled life and her victorious rejection of her disgusting boyfriend and advising us, “Back up and go home ladies if he’s not feeding the pony!” Arm stretched high in the air, Wyatt makes us want to cheer. She tells us about her meetings and conversations with Glenda, an old, senile lady. Wyatt occasionally speaks as Glenda and the transition is easy and entirely believable. She tells the audience about what has led up to her meeting with Glenda and we hear about her life with her depressed mother, her out of work step-dad, their money problems (Wonga is featured), the loss of her friends and her own defiance. The line, “Maybe we are…like…life’s losers” make you want to reassure her, but if you did you’d probably get a well-deserved martial arts punch (she’s trained in that and demonstrates it vigorously). Actually she is stronger than we are and that is what Glenda recognises and admires in her. Amy rows with her family because she has stolen an ipod and that is the “biggest rule” of her family – don’t steal. We are viewing an angry teenager within a difficult, struggling family with clear moral standards; Amy recognises that her family, “my people” are ashamed of her. We are re-evaluating our ideas about a girl we might run from, if confronted in the streets. Glenda helps us and helps Amy to admire her own strength and violence in the face of such turmoil.

Rosie Wyatt in Spine
Rosie Wyatt in Spine
Photo by Richard Davenport

Amy spends more and more time at Glenda’s and there she learns the value of books, education and anger. Glenda is not trying to calm her but to fan the flames of her fury – “You’re a people person. Be more angry!” Glenda sees Amy as the future; she wants her to put her passion into politics, to fight for the future where “you lot are safe again.” This is just the start of a really thought-provoking play. Wyatt, and Brennan’s sensitively written script, ensure that we love Amy who has exposed every inch of herself to us. We share her emotions and see her development from a lost, angry teenager to a rebellious, angry young adult.

As this gem of a play progresses the dim lighting rises and we see that the piles of crates and boxes are in fact books, stolen from closing libraries and stored lovingly by Glenda. I wondered whether this discovery that what had seemed worthless was actually valuable, as books were “free knowledge, bare trust, means to revolution”, perhaps symbolised Amy herself and, with Glenda’s help, I recognised Amy’s value to the world and the future.

The Soho Theatre Upstairs is a small space with seating for 100. It feels like an Edinburgh Fringe venue and suits the intimate feel of the piece. Rosie Wyatt’s performance is a tour de force. The truth of her character and her words was moving and inspiring. Her wonderfully lyrical moment, describing what is upstairs, in the attic, made us feel, like her, “proud of my epic storytelling.” Brennan’s writing is sharp, focused and fierce. I wanted to read the script and there are few productions that make me feel this. Bethany Pitts’ direction was, as always, pitch perfect. Her direction of ‘Dark Vanilla Sky’ at the Edinburgh Fringe 2013 was one of my all-time favourites and this monologue will join it. I believe it is this amalgamation of strong writer, director, producer (Francesca Moody) and actor that make this such a sharp, funny, angry piece of theatre and one that we need in 21st century Britain. It certainly made me re-evaluate my ideas on the need to quieten our young people; we must trust them and believe that “We’re gonna be alright.” Go and see this show. It needs to be seen and discussed and recognised. This is innovative and thought-provoking theatre at its best.

5 Star Rating

Review by Valerie Cochrane

From fast-rising Channel 4 Playwright Clara Brennan, comes a hilarious, pan-generational and heartbreaking call to arms for our modern age.

Spine charts the explosive friendship between a ferocious, wise-cracking teenager and an elderly East End widow. Mischievous activist pensioner Glenda is hell-bent on leaving a political legacy and saving Amy from the Tory scrapheap because ‘there’s nothing more terrifying than a teenager with something to say’.

In this era of damaging coalition cuts and disillusionment, has politics forgotten people? Can we really take the power back? Amy is about to be forced to find out.

Tue 21 Oct – Sun 2 Nov, 7.15pm. Matinees: Sat 2.30pm, Sun 5.30pm
Soho Theatre Upstairs

Thursday 23rd October 2014


  • Valerie Cochrane

    Theatre enthusiast. Keen on all types of drama: physical theatre, Shakespeare, modern drama. Was a Drama and English teacher in a former life, now just an avid theatre goer!

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