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[Performance Analysis:] SKIN, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London.

This was an enjoyable performance tackling a sensitive topic, written and directed by Peter Todd and staged at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre.

The first issue that comes to mind, which I see more and more often nowadays as a theatre critic, is the performance’s inconsistency in style. For this performance, there are two main concerns in this regard: mood, and narrative style. I shall start with the former. It was most surprising, after discovering that our main character might not wake from her surgery, to see a nurse (Proshanto Chanda) using a hairdryer to warm her hypothermic body whilst blabbering on about his holidays. From this moment on, all seriousness and gravity is taken from the play and replaced with an exaggerative comedy, unrealistic and caricatural. Perhaps the intention here was to alleviate the tensions created amongst the audience by Sadie’s (Juliette Imbert) circumstances…if so, why? This change in mood is simply confounding and entirely destructive to the world of the play being built heretofore. It destroys any empathy we have been developing for Sadie, complicates style and mood, and also conveys a sharp degree of insensitivity about the sensitive topic at hand, which is the exact opposite of what is intended here.

On to the latter. It is interesting to learn that the idea that originated this play was what I shall refer to henceforward as ‘the MRI movement sequence’ and surprising to see that this gave birth to a play text. Indeed, situated in a dialogue-heavy performance, this sequence seems most disjointed from the rest of the play, but it does have considerable potential in its own right.

The use of the LED wands representative of the scanner is most creative and original. In terms of this choreography itself, I would note that this sequence is far too long and thus loses its efficacy in what become mundane/unoriginal and somewhat irrelevant movements: Sadie slow-motion walking whilst the doctors rush around her, or hurrying for an exit, blocked by them and retreating, and so on. I would have liked to see, rather than these more esoteric, interpretive and body-focused movements, a more symbolic and narrative-based approach; I think this would have been more appropriate for this particular performance.

One method to achieve this, for example, would have been a better incorporation of the red ball into the sequence, being symbolic of the button Sadie could press to alert the medical professionals that she would like to stop the procedure prematurely. But even this in itself is discontinuous, as Sadie, in actual fact, never signals for the procedure to be stopped, as far as we know, so why the movements with the red ball, those that hold power in ultimately ending the choreography? Additionally, that the sequence should be broken by a voiceover of the doctor repeating the symptoms that she may encounter before the scan…whilst we are halfway through watching the scan take place…is equally discontinuous. Having the doctors represented as aloof, uncompassionate, opportunistic and somewhat secretive is fitting with the narrative we are presented elsewhere, but the repeated looks they share amongst themselves, Sadie's victimisation by them, and having them appear as stubborn, villainous obstacles is quite incongruous. To emphasise and clarify: this is exactly why I believe the cat-and-mouse games of Sadie rushing to escape and the doctors blocking her are unsuitable here.

On the topic of the inconsistency of the representation of the doctors in the movement sequence vs the rest of the play: additionally, there is an inconsistency within the latter alone. In particular, Leah O’Grady has a peculiar challenge with the role of Dr Kinsella, and it is unsurprising, given the incoherency in the text, that the profile she presents is ultimately not credible. Dr Kinsella’s language in the written text is sterile, erudite; her speech is active, and she fails to communicate as doctors should: using simple language and presenting empathetically. Then, suddenly, at the end of every one of her scenes, she demonstrates compassion, personal investment, and breaks this sterility of their particularised doctor–patient divide.

I should also note here the decision to have the actors multi-role. Overall, the cast members have great vitality and a good command on their roles, and so it is surprising that Chanda, for example, was not chosen to represent the surgeon portrayed by Elise Busset. Sadie’s sister, whom Busset plays, is a primary character, and so having Busset portray this character and the surgeon, who furthermore refers to Sadie’s sister as an entirely different character, allows for semiotic confusion, unwanted metatheatricality and hence audience distancing, and, ultimately, another destruction of illusion — illusion being vital for performances like this that demand psychological realism and emotional audience–performer connection. For this reason, I would recommend Chanda play the role of this surgeon, though I can perceive a propensity of his towards more comedic characters than this serious one, so perhaps this was the reason behind this decision.

Despite an adequate performance from all actors, there is a certain lack of urgency across the cast: muscular tension, vitality, transformativity, etc. With this call for multi-roling, I should really emphasise the importance of transformativity, in particular. Characters are simply not distinguished enough, or, when they are, new characters are presented far too caricaturally to distinguish them from previous profiles. This caricaturisation adds an undesirable layer of comedy. Overall, we struggle to find the happy medium between clown-like caricaturisation and a serious and rather stoic naturalism. Lack of muscular tension is particularly noticeable in the MRI movement sequence, with choreography being performed rather routinely..

Corporeal awareness is also note-worthy in this performance, specifically in the opening scene. I hope to be right in my assumption that Busset spilling her beer was not planned, given its clumsy and dangerous effects. What followed was a beyond excellent ad libitum from Imbert and Busset, but especially from Imbert in urging as Sadie that her sister remember that she now has a food waste bin. Excellent de-escalation of the situation, with the actors lingering calmly on stage as though nothing untoward had occurred. However, of course, this should have been avoided altogether with better corporeal awareness. I always recommend for actors daily practice in tuning the body, re-/discovering it, to avoid such onstage mishaps. Control and agency over the body, which has desires and reflexes of its own that must be managed at all times, are key.

As for the writing itself, the story does feel notably rushed. We do not have sufficient time to form an emotional connection with Sadie, and whilst the whirlwind deterioration of her life is promising in theory, it is currently written to be the main point of focus over Sadie herself, i.e. the story focuses on how life acts upon her as opposed to how she is acted upon by life. A slight nuance, but this focus takes us away from the individual and their story, their suffering, and towards a mere recital of events wherein a character is a simple means of representation of the ‘every person’ and not a particularised individual with whom we can deeply connect and empathise.

“An enjoyable performance aiming to tackle various areas of interest but without a cohesive vision.”


Additional Notes on This Performance [for the Requester of this Review]

This technical analysis is included for free as part of The Performance Critic’s standard service. Please get in touch with Lee James Broadwood to receive your additional support and notes, as part of a premium analysis, concerning:

  • Developing Character Identity

  • Ascertaining Realism and Authenticity

  • Blocking and Style

  • Improved Storytelling in Choreography

  • Credibility in Acting

  • Maintaining Mood in Line with Theatrical Modes

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