This inaugural production at London’s newest theatre The Bunker is smart, funny and a reminder of how important it is to live life by your own standards and not by anyone else’s.
Normally I wouldn’t mention the venue in a review but as this is a new and exciting theatre to be added to the Off-West End theatre list it seems appropriate to talk about.
Based in a former underground carpark and next door to the Menier Chocolate Factory, The Bunker is a cosy and intimate new venue that aims to celebrate new writing and has chosen a cracker of a play by Isley Lynn to start its first season.
Skin a Cat is an honest but heartwarming account about growing up and becoming a woman. Lynn’s play is the story of Alana who just like everyone else wants to have sex – but in her case it is a little bit more complicated. Audiences follow her journey from her first period at the age of nine to awkward encounters with boyfriends in her teenage years and early twenties – all in the pursuit of losing her virginity.
With just a bed on the stage, Blythe Stewart’s production is cleverly set up with Lydia Larson’s Alana being the central character, while Jessica Clark and Jassa Ahluwalia play the various men and women that she encounters on her journey. With their characters changing constantly, sharp timing and strong characterisations from both Ahluwalia and Clark are needed to sustain the interest of the audience.
Thankfully, the pair succeed magnificently. Jessica Clark (who it is nice to see on stage again following her performance in Rotterdam at Trafalgar Studios) is hilarious as Alana’s awkward and perhaps overprotective mother, while able to show a softer side as the nurse that Alana visits to get help. Meanwhile, Jassa Ahulwalia effectively portrays all of the different types of boyfriends that Alana has over the years – some who were understanding, while others not so much.
Meanwhile Lydia Larson as Alana gives a performance which is funny, warmhearted and with the occasional moment of frustration that the audience can really sympathise with as her condition becomes known and better understood.
But while ultimately the production is poignant look at what it means to grow up and become a woman, there are some genuinely funny moments that are completely relatable for the audience – such as the awkwardness of trying to initiate sex between two unexperienced people or trying out tampons for the first time. It is moments like these that keep the play down to earth and show the audience the pressure placed on us by society as a whole to do things in a certain way by a certain stage in your life – not taking into account your own happiness.
It is perhaps Alana’s fear of being judged that is the most relatable thing about the whole play. We all fear not living up to other people’s expectations and put unnecessary pressure on ourselves. The most telling scene is when the Alana returns to the nurse to discuss her progress – and when she realises that she is happy as she is she can finally move forward with her life: a reminder that there is a million different ways to live your life.
Some might find the play and the production’s graphicness a bit too blunt in places – particularly in terms of the language, but the whole thing is beautifully directed that it is hard to be offended.
It is a sparky and poignant start to The Bunker’s first season and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Skin a Cat plays at The Bunker until the 5th November. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/skin-a-cat.