Thick Skin Theatre
Now touring after gathering awards at the Edinburgh Festival this hour-long play centres on fifteen-year-old Sparky who tells the audience that he sees them as a lot of dead bodies in pools of blood. That’s not a good start to a relationship but it makes the audience sit up.
Sparky is bored by school and has behaviour issues and he can’t keep still. He is diagnosed as having ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder) and prescribed Ritalin. He keeps his headset on even when at sessions with his behavioural support teacher Mrs Kelly, a patient lady who has given up classroom teaching because she sees each class as a herd of threatening wild animals. She is trying to gain his cooperation so that he doesn’t get expelled. Perhaps you’ve been there before, but not quite like this.
It is in detention that Sparky is confronted by a girl called Siouxsie. He fancies her and for once makes a connection. She thinks she’s got special powers: an ability to control things and hurt people through some kind of brain sourced kinetic energy. She believes this power comes only to those between first period and first proper kiss. She thinks it caused volcanic ash to fill the skies and the earthquake that caused the Japanese tsunami just when she needed to stop certain things happening, and that it caused the death of the baby step-brother she didn’t want.
Sparky is at that same susceptible stage of life and Siouxsie teaches him how to awaken the force. But how can they stop it when Sparky realises that he has made a mistake?
You can take this as metaphor or as science fiction but either way it is splendidly done. It brings together kinetic scenery, video projection, dramatic score, choreography and dialogue in a production that fuses them together into a dynamic whole.
A white wall made up of a multitude of lockers from which props can be produced or their openings used to climb above them forms a moving surface for projections. There is no credit for designer or composer, but Neil Bettles is the director and choreographer, the lighting is designed by Simon Wilkinson and Jennie Riordan is named as “creative assistant”. They have done a fine job together. This is one multimedia piece that becomes real theatre not someone playing with different media.
The performances are excellent. Brian Vernel captures the boy’s pig-headed obsession. He is infuriating but at the same time immensely likeable. Samantha Foley’s Siouxsie displays the bold confidence of a girl who knows she’s bright and thinks she’s right, though still trying to work out how you handle boys.
Pauline Lockhart is Mrs Kelly, calmly confident on the surface but muttering mantras to keep herself from running, drawing both smiles and sympathy. Nick Rhys as PE teacher Mr Murphy, sneaking off for a fag round by the dustbins, is another strong performance and his self defence instruction class leads to a fast moving physical sequence of inspired invention which all four perform with skill and precision—a highlight in a staging that is constantly engaging.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton