The Soho Theatre launched its post-lockdown summer season this week with Shedding A Skin, written and performed by Amanda Wilkin, the 2020 winner of the Verity Bargate Award.
Wilkin imbues the narrative with energy and physicality
It’s an ultimately celebratory piece that follows the recent times of Myah dealing with life as a woman of colour in an office that lacks certain sensitivities. More concerned about holding on to her coffee mug than her job, she assesses her life, makes some significant decisions, and finds herself moving into lodgings with Mildred. As the mysteries and secrets of this elderly Jamaican lady’s life gradually unfold, Myah is increasingly captivated and inspired by her new acquaintance.
Wilkin imbues the narrative with energy and physicality, not only when delivering the lines, but also when dismantling the minimalist and versatile partitions and peeling back the layers of skin-like blinds of the increasingly fascinating set by Rosanna Vize. The humour is inherent in the script, but she delivers it with a variety of voices that reflect her moods and the characters she encounters. Facial contortions, eyes that emphasise, gestures that speak and bodily tortuosity become the repertoire of skills that support her varied and uninhibited delivery.
It would all flow very smoothly if her story were not interspersed at each major juncture with a visual outburst and newsflash-style announcement about something happening a given distance away. The distance of the event becomes shorter with each scene, but each is introduced with the words, “In the same moment xx miles away....”, starting at 568 miles and decreasing through 360, 283, 243,132, 56, 5, until the lengths become intimately short and are no longer part of a visual display, but instead are spoken by Myah. The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences came up with no results for this string of numbers, so they are perhaps as random as the events they accompany. In their own right the projections are spectacular. Lighting designer Jess Bernberg and projection designer Nina Dunn, alongside sound designer and composer Richard Hammarton have combined to create effects worthy of a planetarium display. The difficulty is in finding the connection between them and Myah’s story. Or is that while Myah is absorbed in her world life goes on in many ways and places around her, suggesting a tangential commonality with the rest of mankind? It all begs the question as to whether the play needs these scenes at all.
Director Elayce Ismail has meticulously designed this production to heighten the impact of each scene with almost choreographic precision. Words and movement are mutually supportive in this story which she rightly says “has weight and depth, but is ultimately very joyful and positive”.
That was very much the feeling at the end of Shedding A Skin, not just about the play, but because audiences, actors and creatives were once more back where they ought to be doing what they love.