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Pickle Jar by Maddie Rice at Soho Theatre | Review

Pickle Jar, Soho Theatre - Maddie Rice (Courtesy of Ali Wright)
Pickle Jar, Soho Theatre – Maddie Rice (Courtesy of Ali Wright)

Sometimes a show comes along that does very well at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and then comes down to London, where it isn’t as well received, and one sits in the audience wondering what on earth happened to the production in the intervening period. This is not, I am pleased to report, the case with Pickle Jar. Maddie Rice plays a teacher, named only as Miss, putting in a tour de force performance as she voices a range of other characters including her pupils, her colleagues, her ex-boyfriend and her flatmate, all the while maintaining absolute clarity with regard to time and place, and who is saying what to whom.

This is quite a remarkable achievement given that there are no costume changes and the action is pretty much continuous. There are a couple of backless seats, one of which is specifically referred to as a ‘mound’, where Miss periodically sits, but apart from sparse amounts of greenery, there’s not much else to the staging. Creating the feel of the classroom, for instance, is partially done by sound effects, but mostly it is Rice’s Miss doubling up as almost everyone else (the occasional voiceover can be heard), even putting on what sociologists refer to as Multicultural London English, though we seem to be spared the ubiquitous ‘innit’, ‘you know’ and ‘like’.

This isn’t a show about the sort of stress most teachers talk about, relating to excessive workloads and onerous administrative tasks that make even Margaret Thatcher’s supposed four hours of sleep a night seem luxurious. Instead, Miss has a social life (kindly suspend disbelief at the theatre door, thank you). With a bittersweet sense of humour, what difficulties Miss encounters are ultimately ‘first world problems’, before a critical incident occurs, changing the course of Miss’ life, and the mood of the production.

But even after the major event that shakes the school community, the laughs keep coming, particularly in a dance that was officially supposed to be about “teamwork and feminism” but really was too lewd for personal, social and health education (PSHE) lesson. One or two of the characters are caricatured, such as Laura Warren, the ‘school counsellor’ (schools have enough in the budget for a counsellor these days, apparently), one of those people that goes out of their way to be helpful to the point where they are, paradoxically, unhelpful with their regular interferences in the personal matters of others.

‘Stranger danger’ is, quite hilariously, taken to an extreme at the beginning of the play. Miss tells her pupils not to trust or talk to anyone ever, which is a little like those platform announcements at railway stations in which passengers are yelled at to ‘stand behind the yellow line at all times’, such that it is not technically possible to board a train, as that would involve crossing the said line. As the show continues, both the storytelling and the rapport with the audience are excellent, and in the course of a single act, a number of pertinent issues and themes are raised. As the narrative points out, ‘stranger danger’ is one thing, but what about people who are known to their victims – the enemy within, as it were?

All things considered, this is a nuanced and engaging production, captivating and bizarre in equal measure. There can never be enough reminders that whatever one may be encountering in life, one need not suffer in silence.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Stranger danger, heartbreak and piña coladas are all on the syllabus when you’re learning how to be a Responsible Adult. The pressures of teaching, Tinder and outrageous best mates are a lot to juggle. It’s hard keeping it together when your whole life is falling apart.

Tackling important social issues of consent and victim-blaming, Pickle Jar is honestly and sharply written. It’s a refreshing look at life for young women self-consciously navigating optimistic female empowerment while getting swept away by the excitement of playful sexuality. An acutely observed production, Pickle Jar is a moving piece about friendship, grief and mixing metaphors which never fails to be funny.

Writer and performer Maddie Rice
Directed and developed by Katie Pesskin
Designer Alice Hallifax
Lighting Designer Mark Dymock

Running time 70 minutes
Twitter @maddierice1 @_fightinthedog @sohotheatre
Notes 16+ with themes of suicide and sexual assault

Pickle Jar
Performance Dates Tuesday 23rd October – Saturday 10th November 2018
Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE
www.sohotheatre.com

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