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BWW Review: SHEDDING A SKIN, Soho Theatre


Winner of the 2020 Verity Bargate Award

BWW Review: SHEDDING A SKIN, Soho Theatre

BWW Review: SHEDDING A SKIN, Soho Theatre
When Phoebe Waller-Bridge is galvanised by a new voice, expectations are likely to be high. The actor / writer enjoyed great success with her own one woman show Fleabag, which ran at Soho Theatre. As a judge for the 2020 Verity Bargate Award, Waller-Bridge and others, including TV scribe Russell T Davies, deemed Amanda Wilkin's monologue Shedding a Skin the winner. Now playing to standing ovations in that same venue, the result makes plain why.

We are transported straight into the nub of the action. Office worker Myah (Wilkin) is unexpectedly summoned to the conference room, mid-sandwich during her sacred lunch hour. She hates working there and has been fantasising about an escape plan, which comes sooner than expected.

Finding herself clustered with the few other non-white employees, Myah learns that her boss has arranged a photo shoot so that the firm can promote diversity - a tactic that leaves her seething. Exploding with rage, our protagonist protests against the sheer racism on show and unleashes a tirade of long contained, and frankly quite comical, anger. She leaves soon afterwards with her pot plant and personalised mug, buoyed by her actions but panicked by the inevitable ramifications.

We are led through the ensuing events, which include a breakup with her bass recorder- playing boyfriend and her navigation through job ads and spare room searches. The skilful storytelling is enhanced by Wilkin's often animated awkwardness and a richly humorous script. She is infinitely self-deprecating but all the more relatable and endearing for it.

The play really comes into its own once Myah meets Mildred, or Mrs T as her new, elderly Jamaican landlady likes to be called. We never see her, but thanks to Wilkin's expert delivery, she is allowed to be a fully-fledged, well-rounded character in her own right. The two slowly build a bond, which in turn accentuates the chief theme of the play: connection.

Wilkin captures our basic human need for companionship amid the often-startling loneliness of London and shows that age should never be a barrier to connecting with others. In fact, we should draw on the wisdom of previous generations to guide us and perhaps look backwards in order to help us in going forward.

Mildred opens Myah's eyes and permits her to make positive changes to her life. We even witness the transformation from Myah's initially drab attire to colourful as she embraces herself, her culture and life in general. This is echoed in Rosanna Vize's smart set design, which is peeled back to reveal further layers throughout.

Occasional tangents do not detract from the pacy production, thanks to the tempo of the vivid writing and the exuberant energy of the performer. A series of interludes featuring narrations of moments happening around the world (a woman feels threatened on a bus, two men spend their first night together as parents) might represent an effort to reiterate the idea of connection. Ultimately, though, they feel gimmicky and repetitive.

It would be all too easy for a play of this nature to veer towards sentimentality, but Wilkin reins it in and ensures a truthful picture is painted. Proffering the right balance between humour and tenderness, this observational character study is just the kind of theatre we all need right now.

Shedding a Skin at Soho Theatre until 17 July

There will be a live stream of the play on 15 July at 7:30

Photo credit: Helen Murray

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