She at Drayton Arms Theatre | Review

Given the subject matter and the play’s material, it’s probably right that the production dispenses with the usual curtain call and bowing, so not to dispel the atmosphere created by what is ultimately a tragedy. In some other tragedies, it works to have bows and a round of applause, particularly when there is a large cast. But I recall seeing a one-person play at Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2012, about a soldier from a rural English village who goes off to fight in World War One. The ending, a fellow theatregoer said afterwards, did not leave her wanting to clap and cheer at once, but to sit and reflect for a moment before doing so. This show was rather like that play.

ShePenny Tomai presents a complex character who relied on the confidence of her partner, who she refers to as her ‘lover’, and her ‘best friend’ (that is, two separate people). At first, the lover is very patient with her, and her mental state seems to improve as she takes on board his rather practical suggestions. She even goes as far as to say, “I would die for you”, addressing her lover, in a flurry of emotion in which the heart speaks before the mind, in the sense that one is no use to one’s lover if one is dead. Later, she discovers she is no use to him anyway, as he jumps into bed with her best friend (hence the previous inverted commas), and while I might have thought of getting my own back (think Alex Forrest in the film Fatal Attraction), the narrator decides the best, or rather least worst, course of action is to be taken by her own hand.

It wasn’t entirely clear, at least to me, how much time had elapsed between meeting her lover for the first time and seeing anybody at all for the last time – but it wasn’t as if she decided to end her life on a whim. That said, her opinions of herself veer between extremes, whilst leaving unanswered questions as to why, for example, she thought there was really nobody else out there, in a world with billions of people, who she could befriend or fall in love with, if she felt that is what she needed.

For the duration of the performance, the narrator sits up in a mattress on the floor (thankfully, this particular pub theatre venue has tiered seating) and delivers a series of monologues in an understated but nonetheless convincing manner – this is someone who has largely given up, seemingly disinterested in everything to the point where she admits even her personal hygiene could be better. It would be a mistake, however, to think that there is no point in being interested in someone who takes no interest themselves, though I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.

“I don’t want to be rescued,” she says, which raises a question as to whether much can really be done for someone who does not want third party intervention. I’m not qualified to say whether there might have been a case for her to be sectioned under mental health legislation. That isn’t the salient point, however: the play is more about exploring the narrator’s thoughts and assumptions. Deep and introspective, the show is very focused and consistently gloomy, but intriguingly without any outpourings of emotion in what is a highly nuanced and controlled performance. It strikes a good balance between painting a portrait of suicidal depression without, to be blunt, making the audience depressed themselves – sometimes poetic, sometimes visceral, always thoughtful.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

She depicts the final nights of a woman planning to take her life, presenting the frequently censored themes of suicide, emotional abuse, body dysmorphia, sexual violence and child loss. The play typifies the dangerous romanticisation of self-neglect and death, regularly experienced by suicidal individuals, with a raw, unsensationalised and feeling narrative. It aims, above all, to call for compassion and receptivity and to create a space for open dialogues about human suffering, depression and self-harm.

7:30pm on 21st and 22nd April 2024

Drayton Arms Theatre
Written and directed by Lee James Broadwood
Performed by Penny Tomai
Produced by Broadmai Productions

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