Review: THE UNICORN, Arcola Theatre

Sam Potter's new play is a detailed exploration of trauma and addiction with the guise of a provocative theme.

By: Jun. 10, 2023
Review: THE UNICORN, Arcola Theatre

Review: THE UNICORN, Arcola Theatre This review contains spoilers.

After being laid off with substantial severance pay and an NDA, Andrea falls into depression and locks herself in her home. She downloads a dating app as a distraction and accidentally becomes a serial Tinder-er. Her quest to explore her erotic identity and her sex party-finder exploits succeed in keeping the truth buried for a while.

The Unicorn is a multifaceted, sombre look at trauma and addiction laced with deliberately unwitting humour and a penchant for benign shock. Sam Potter writes a play that's intense, eloquent, and exciting in both themes and delivery.

It comes alive with Alice Lamb’s firecracker of a performance. Directed by Tom Brennan, she conceals Andrea’s explosive personality underneath a demure persona. Lamb is effortlessly funny in her pure approach to the character, but unafraid to plunge into the depths of the real issue. She introduces a young woman who wields her libido as a toxic coping mechanism, misunderstood and criticised by the people in her personal life.

Her jolly, benevolent disposition is a breath of fresh air when paired with the often raunchy subject, and Brennan’s malleable direction means she is fearless in the face of the tonal changes of Potter’s poetic inter-scene interludes. Lights go down and she whips out a torch that lights up a tiny unicorn figurine cradled in her hand as she goes from prey to predator and back again. Andrea’s battle happens on so many fronts it’s truly impressive that Potter managed to handle all of them satisfyingly in 60 minutes.

The demonisation of female pleasure and Andrea's subsequent ownership of it remain visible in the background when her unlikely epiphany takes hold. While the core of it was hinted at with a slightly overlong Chekhovian gun moment, the debris of her immediate reaction to her brother’s death still cascades as a self-management tool. Potter builds Andrea’s pursuit of escapism through rough sex into a cautionary tale.

She doesn’t vilify the acts themselves (and actually frequently makes them sound quite intriguing) nor condemn the scene in any way, refocusing the question on her character’s dependence and abuse of them. The Unicorn is a gem not because of its delectably saucy matter, but for the sensitive, meticulous analysis of what lies behind it. It asks the audience to go beyond its text and fill the space between the fun and the tragedy. It’s great psychological theatre.

The Unicorn runs at the Arcola Theatre until 24 June.

Photo Credit: Geraint Lewis


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