Matthew Floyd Jones wants you under his skin. In his first solo show the multi-talented Mannish of Frisky and the same takes you beneath the epidermis of a dying relationship in a one-man ‘musical monologue’. There’s humour, pathos and some real visual inventiveness, but it’s still visibly a work in progress, and somehow never quite snaps into shape.
Jones is first sighted retrieving his iPhone from a glowing toilet bowl, entirely encased in one of those zentai body stockings. He’s in his old teenage room, a decade or so after he left it, having retreated to his family home after his boyfriend finally grew sick of his philandering and chucked him out. Above his bed his phone screen is projected onto a window blind, and we watch him skim idly through a Grindr-like and exchanging messages with this anonymous ‘x’.
His gloom is interspersed with memories from his childhood, specifically of an acne problem which has left permanent scarring, describes in neat video inserts of Jones in drag as a dermatological consultant with a penchant for moulting snakes. Jones’ character seems to be looking for renewal too – looking to slough off the emotional baggage and scars of this relationship but finding it a struggle to do so.
The projected conversations are great, particularly the increasingly obtuse euphemisms of his horny online suitors, and there’s a neat trick of relaying messages from the ‘x’ in a multi-tracked barbershop performed by Jones. In fact, the totality of Jones’ voice and image across the entire show is an effective conceit that could probably be driven further. The use of recorded footage and vocals almost seems unnecessary when Jones is such a compelling live performer.
As neat as the visual image of Jones in his stocking may be, there is a sense that the show fails to grab its audience owing to the barrier it necessarily creates. When Jones finally strips out of his ‘skins’ to chat astrology and sketch his star-chart the room instantly warms, the laughs come freer and easier and the entire story becomes more relatable. The best images see Jones trapped half-way in his old skin, crawling snake-like across the floor or humping his mattress in an agonised attempt to refresh himself.
Direction from Dickie Beau seems determined to emphasise the stage picture rather than the story-telling, and what should be a very human story feels quite mechanical until well past the half-way mark. It doesn’t help that Jackson’s Lane is a bit of a cavern, and Barry Hilton’s sound design a bit shrill, but a less abstract and more personal approach could make everything more engaging and perhaps even more appropriate to the theme.
There seems to be an autobiographical angle to Psychodermabrasion, and Jones’ wicked sense of humour is vividly displayed throughout, but more development, particularly in terms of the production’s aesthetic and technical decisions are probably required if it’s going to prove properly skin-tingling.
Matthew Floyd Jones on the making of Psychodermabrasion