Review: Skank (Pleasance Courtyard)
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Skank introduces us to Kate; a woman on the brink of crisis who uses sex and self-deprecating humour and sex to distract herself from her crumbling mental health in this one-act fringe play. Sound familiar? For years one-woman solo performances have found themselves compared to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sensation Fleabag particularly by critics, regardless of how different their subject matter. Here, Skank seems intent on bringing in a similar audience; it’s just a question of whether there’s enough to make it stand apart.
Created by Clementine Bogg-Hargroves, Skank sells itself as a one-woman show combined with stand-up, but it’s hard to see where the performance ever moves away from straight-forward solo piece. And as a solo piece, it is as though the audience can still see scaffolding around the writing, with the bare bones of the script still on display. Kate as a character seems to have been built more around actions than dialogue, which has left a disconnect between the two. She watches porn at work, drinks vodka from an old baked bean can, drowns a photo of a baby in beer, but in her dialogue and her Bogg-Hargroves' performance she seems too mild, awkward and relatable to convince the audience that this is a plausible, consistent character. Her ambition to become a writer only detracts from the believability. We can already see the construction of the character; what Bogg-Hargroves wanted her to be in the actions vs the kind of character that was actually created through the dialogue. Making Kate’s ambition writing makes the play all the more translucent to the writer behind it.
This is not altogether wrong, since the play is based on Bogg-Hargroves' own experiences in 2018. But without the writing being profound, or the plot veering in unexpected directions, it is difficult to see why it is a story that needs to be told. For a play whose marketing suggesting something gritty and confrontational as well as humorous, the lack of variety in situations and settings is disappointing. She moves from an office to a coffee shop to her home to a corporate party, there is little to suggest the kind of chaotic live style Bogg-Hargroves is trying to sell. We’re told she has anxiety, but there’s nothing in the writing that makes you look at either the character or mental health in a new way. The aforementioned baked bean can becomes a symbol for clinging on to patterns and behaviours but still trying to do better and be better as she searches for somewhere to recycle it, but the lack of subtlety makes it appear like just another narrative tool rather than something to become emotionally invested in. To audience members who do not attend many solo performances, these conventions won’t seem as tired as they do to a seasoned theatre-goer or a Fringe veteran. Even so, a show this derivative needs to be recognised for its unoriginality. Skank is one of many solo performances that show that the genre needs to have a look at itself and find new stories to tell and new ways to tell them. Two stars.
Whispers form the Crowd:
It was really really well acted. I found it really dark, but she did it really well. Very Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Photo Credit: Shay Rowan