Skin Tight**** (Park Theatre, 18 July 2013)

Posted: July 19, 2013 in Theatre

This review was original written for The Public Reviews:

On one of the hottest nights of the year, the Park’s pleasantly cool studio theatre provided a welcome contrast to the streets outside. Yet little more than an hour after entering, as bows were being taken, the same space resembled a steamy Turkish bath and there had been no noticeable air conditioning failure. The heat generated by the script and the actors in this intense two-hander might have been sufficient to start a thaw at the South Pole. As a prelude, soft piano music plays and nostalgic photographs appear on a screen, showing a couple enjoying happy times together; at opposite corners of the stage, the actual couple are positioned statuesque, looking away from each other, thereby providing a glimpse of what is to follow. The music stops, the pair dash towards each other, collide and, for several minutes before any word is spoken, they exchange blows, throw each other to the ground and engage in a brutal battle that is interrupted occasionally and briefly by tender kisses and embraces. It is a truly stunning opening, so completely convincing that there are genuine fears for the safety of the participants. When this savage assault by the two people on each other and on the senses of the audience gives way to dialogue, we learn that the pair are Elizabeth and Tom, former lovers reunited to examine what brought them together and what tore them apart. In the sparring that follows, they are at one moment playful, then resentful, amorous, bitter, melancholic, angry; each mood and emotion blends naturally into the next, finding both verbal and physical expression. The story unfolds gradually and, as the layers are peeled away, it culminates in heartbreaking revelations. Playing the couple, Angela Bull and John Schumacher are magnificent, bringing the characters touchingly to life and expending extraordinary amounts of raw energy. The playwright, Gary Henderson, is a New Zealander and, although he locates his story in his home country, his themes are universal. The lyrical qualities in his writing offset the play’s starker aspects beautifully, as does the stage design which evokes a rural setting, bathed in the fading light of late afternoon. It cannot be often in a small production like this that credit needs to be given to a fight director (Dan Styles) and movement director (Clare McKenna), but, along with Jemma Cross, they contribute to making everything brutally realistic, riveting and visually startling. So this gets a strong recommendation to grab a ticket, with the added advice that, whatever the weather outside, it would be best to wear light clothing.

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