A solo piece of feminist writing from theatre company Flipping the Bird,
Jess Mabel Jones is intensely likeable in this new one-woman show which fails to fully explore its subject matter.
The show opens on a beglittered Jess Mabel Jones silhouetted in a power stance against a hazy backlight, a framework of atmospheric yellow bulbs glowing above her on all sides of the stage. We’re on her side from the beginning: she’s a compelling performer with a fantastic voice. A drunken cubicle monologue about the graffiti in the ladies loos is promising: “all these people… who had a pen on them”. But the writing never hits its stride. Covering relationships, sex, body image, motherhood, and interspersing it all with flamboyant pop covers, Torch is tonally and formally confusing. Topics are ticked off before they’ve really begun, and the songs feel superfluous rather than integral. Given the societal pressures the production explores, it’s unfortunate (if fitting) that it suffers from attempting to do too much.
There are some lovely moments: finally confronting a boyfriend is described as "spilling", a particular turn of phrase is "my mum coming out of my mouth", and in a section on motherhood we hear listed "all the things I have to complete before that life will complete me". Women, we understand, are vessels containing an idea of womanhood, to bear children and seal up negative emotion until it overflows. But such sentiments feel underdeveloped; an exploration of the word ‘ladylike’ jumps out as a point which could have provided more substance had it been pushed further.
We’re in the middle of a glut of explorations of what it means to be a certain kind of liberated young woman in the 21st century: Lena Dunham’s Girls, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Jenny Slate in Obvious Child, to name a few. Torch feels a little flimsy in comparison, and this is only emphasised by its sheeny nightclub aesthetic. “I thought I had the checklist completed”, says F of her pre-thirty bucket list. Given the no-holds-barred attitude to sharing of its contemporaries, this production feels notably lacking in emotional intimacy.‘The checklist’ seems too superficial to properly scratch beneath the surface of F’sfears, and while there’s huge potential in the darker moments, they are too few and far between.
“We’re all told we’re looking for something. Part of ourselves is missing,” reads the flyer. Torch is beautifully presented and has the glimmerings of a rawer, rougher piece, but ultimately lacks the urgency and complexity which would make it really ignite.