My partner and I talked about Give Me Your Skin for a solid hour after we left The Boat Shed, which in itself should qualify Tom Ross-Williams and Oonagh Murphy’s engagingly rebellious show as a success. The show covers an immense amount of ground in a short space of time; every angle you turn it, something glittery and new is revealed. This is a shotgun approach to smashing the patriarchy, a broad scattering of gameshow-style contests, personal anecdotes, musical theatre, conspiracy theories, manifestos, confessions, and arguments.
The interactive games in Give Me Your Skin are great fun and well considered. Cameron Macaulay’s catchy stings work with Sherry Coenen’s low-tech, glitzy lighting to make something warmly ironic and home-made enough to get people willingly onstage. The games themselves are simple enough so that the contest doesn’t overshadow the political content. In one guessing game, my partner yells out “boy!” when the description of a toy gets as far as ‘dark green’. It is, of course, a plastic gun; and it is, of course, marketed specifically towards young boys. Much of what Ross-Williams and Murphy point out in Give Me Your Skin isn’t meant to shock us, it’s meant to remind us.
Exeter’s a small city, and Give Me Your Skin definitely benefits from a friendly, responsive audience. Probably about half on this opening night are the usual Bike Shed/Boat Shed crowd – fellow theatre-makers and lefty liberal types. It’s easy to engage with Ross-Williams and Murphy’s gentle but honest relationship and Kieton Brown-Saunders’ playful, cheeky asides, and there’s a feeling in the space of warmth, openness, and respect. I wonder how the show changes if it gets a more hostile crowd, if it feels less like preaching to the choir, but I’m glad I got to experience it in that space and with those people. And by ‘preaching to the choir’, that’s not to say if you agree with the politics in Give Me Your Skin that it doesn’t still provoke, question, renew – even the choir needs to listen to the sermon sometimes.
As the piece goes on, I grow slightly disenchanted with the quieter moments when Ross-Williams and Murphy discuss their histories; these conversations are staged as if they’re happening for the first time, but the cynical part of me kicks in and wonders how many times they’ve done that surprised reaction or that spontaneous comment. The show plays with how meta it can be but it could definitely push this further, because there are moments that creep away from performativity that still don’t feel completely truthful. There are also some practical kinks to work out with timing the projections, bolstering the set, and getting pens that work too.
While it’s not easy to pinpoint anything in the show that didn’t have a place, there are times when Give Me Your Skin feels unfocused. Some of the most satisfying details are those that feel like they pay off later in the show, like being told, offhand, that Brown-Saunders is a boxer and later having him strap on pads while Murphy lets off some steam with the gloves. It feels at times like the piece gets distracted from its broad concept of pulling apart toxic masculinity – which is understandable because hey, that shit gets everywhere. And there’s always something to be said for being broad enough to get to everyone, somehow; on the whole Give Me Your Skin still manages (just about) to keep it personal. I would have liked a few more concrete tools to take back to my everyday patriarchy-smashing, but I’m definitely looking forward to using my sticker the next time I’m in Toys-R-Us.
Give Me Your Skin was at The Boat Shed, Exeter until June 28th. For more details, click here.