Over the course of a lifetime together, a married couple must go through an awful lot. Initial romance, wooing each other, living together, marriage, children, growing old together and finally death. Could you summarise a life spent as part of a couple in only one hour? I know I couldn’t, but luckily Southern Magpie Theatre have brought Gary Henderson’s play Skin Tight to the Hope Theatre in Islington to do the job for me.
Tom (Philippe Edwards) and Elizabeth (Louise Hoare) have been together for a long time. Since meeting as children in their small New Zealand town, the two of them have had a life together of ups and downs. Together they have faced life and all it could throw at them. They’ve loved, each other, fought each other, argued, made up and generally been a normal married couple. Tom went to war, while Elizabeth stayed home wondering if he would return and how she would cope if he didn’t. They produced a child and ran their farm as best they could. But now they are getting old and, as they have time to reminisce about their lives together.
This two-hander is based loosely on Denis Glover’s Poem ‘The Magpies’ but really expands the poem in unexpected ways. I really don’t want go into spoiler territory but this production was absolutely nothing like I was expecting. Right from the off, this was obviously going to be a unique show that really called upon all the physical and mental abilities of the actors. Philippe and Louise may have only recently graduated from LAMDA, but you wouldn’t know it given the assured performances that the audience witnessed. Originally, I had a concern that the actors were too young for the parts of Tom and Elizabeth but then, it struck me that what we were seeing was the physical embodiment of how they saw each other. Still full of life and vitality, their bodies may be old but their souls were still youthful. Full praise to both actors for their performance and to Director Max Kirk in putting together such an intense show – both physically and mentally – in a relatively small performance space and managing to do it in such a way that the space seemed to expand to accommodate the action.
I think for me, the one flaw with Skin Tight is that it is too short. At the end, I had so many questions in my mind about Tom and Elizabeth and their lives that I was left feeling slightly frustrated that it had ended. I, like quite a few in the audience, was also busy wiping away a tear and I defy anyone who has any feelings in their body not to be really moved by the last couple of scenes. Even though I guessed the ending quite early on, it still hit me like an emotional cannonball coming out of nowhere. The odd thing is that in reality, Tom and Elizabeth’s story together is fairly normal. Their highs and lows are pretty much the same as those encountered by every couple since the dawn of time. However, the combination of solid writing and superb acting really draws the audience in and holds them spellbound as the story of these two lovers unfurls before them.
All in all then, Skin Tight is a play you go and see with no expectations – because you will be wrong – but with an open mind and a willingness to delve into the highs and lows of these two ordinary people and their wonderful relationship with each other.
Review by Terry Eastham
1950s, the rural plains of Southern New Zealand. She has to go, he can’t let her. A couple’s past unravels in a tender, playful and bruising encounter.
As Tom and Elizabeth face their final struggle and look back over their lives, their darkest secrets, fears and desires are laid bare as fractured moments of violence and memory play out around an old, decaying farm.
One of New Zealand’s most beloved plays, based on Dennis Glover’s iconic kiwi poem ‘The Magpies’, SKIN TIGHT is a fierce portrayal of our need to hold onto love and the past, and to find a place to truly belong.
Cast: Tom Philippe Edwards
Elizabeth Louise Hoare
Creatives: Producer Cindy McLean-Bibby
Director Max Kirk
Designer Rachael Twyford
Lighting Designer Oliver Bush
The Hope Theatre
207 Upper Street
London N1 1RL
17 October – 4 November 2017