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The Unicorn written by Sam Potter at the Arcola Theatre

There’s something to Sam Potter’s one-act, one-woman show that takes it a cut above the numerous Fleabag-esque funny/confessional observations of young women in modern times. That something is probably Alice Lamb (as protagonist Andrea – and all other characters) whose versatility, comic timing, charm and command are exciting to behold. Tom Brennan’s direction also adds dynamism to the story and keeps the pace moving nicely along.

Arcola-THE UNICORN Alice Lamb. Credit Geraint Lewis
Arcola-THE UNICORN Alice Lamb. Credit Geraint Lewis

The play itself is filled with laugh-out-loud lines and some powerful theatrical flourishes. Whilst Lamb is a skilled impersonator and gives distinction to the multiple roles she plays; playwright Potter really only offers one fully-drawn character: Andrea. We learn that Andrea has been made redundant and rejected by her lover all in the same week. Both as a sort of rite of passage and to fill her newly empty days, she sets up a Tinder profile but is bored by the homogeneity and predictability of the experience – described by Lamb in very funny terms. She (and we the audience) then meet self-adoring Italian finance-bro, Rocco, who invites her to her first sex party. This is not a tale of corruption but of unearthed enthusiasm. Although initially awkward in an unfamiliar world, Andrea finds her tribe and thrills – discovering she is ‘a unicorn’ as a single, attractive young woman who is happiest arriving on her own and partaking in orgies anonymously.

As Andrea learns more and more about a scene she never knew existed as she further cultivates her new ‘hobby’, she offers mainly droll bons-mots comprised of graphic descriptions of unbridled pleasure along with delighted surprise at how she discovered it. However, the story does rise in intensity and foreshadows darker turns. It is at this point where I begin to wonder if The Unicorn is at all daring – despite its brash phrasing – or if it’s pretty much an orbital route that returns us to the Madonna/Whore framing of women’s identities that is criticised in the early lines of the text? The character of Andrea, on the one hand, now shuns those who judge her but, on the other hand, internalises the classic patriarchal construct, explaining ‘a man is unlikely to want to bring home a woman to his parents who he met at a gang-bang.’ Whilst Andrea’s (or Potter’s ) analysis of the hypocrisy of contemporary social mores may be accurate, the script does nothing to examine these dilemmas or why Andrea has internalised them. Instead, it takes us somewhere else. Ultimately, we discover Andrea’s behaviour is a compulsion driven by trauma – it’s as if Potter knows there can’t simply be a story about a woman’s libertine awakening; there must be a pathological backstory if the heroine is not to be killed off like a Jacobean tragedy or a modern morality tale. The ending has pleasing aspects with an interesting and slightly more (but not fully) drawn character and conflict introduced, but it’s not entirely satisfying because it doesn’t feel particularly original in its approach to the dramatic climax and denouement.

This one-hour play has many intriguing and entertaining components – it sets high expectations for the story-telling of Potter and the fine acting of Lamb. With that glimpse of significant promise, I wanted more from the story and could see it developed into a full-scale drama or even, potentially, a series. As it is, it’s funny and compelling but perhaps doesn’t realise its full dramatic potential – just yet.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

You have probably worked this out by now, but I’m a Unicorn. It’s the name given to girls like me because of our extreme rarity. We are exotic beasts, to be hunted and slain. Oh and we’re dead horny!

Tom Brennan directs Alice Lamb in Sam Potter’s provocative and unflinching play The Unicorn.

After her life takes an unexpected turn, Andrea finds herself overwhelmed by feelings of frustration and depression. She attempts to combat her loneliness through casual sex, but what starts as a distraction, soon threatens to take over her life.

Sam Potter’s searing new play is a darkly comic and evocative portrait of a woman driven to extremes in this vivid examination of obsession, desire and despair.

Produced by Nina Productions
The Unicorn
Written by Sam Potter
Directed by Tom Brennan
7 June – 24 June 2023
https://www.arcolatheatre.com/

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Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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