Feeling far too drunk, a young woman sits in one of the cubicles of a club toilet. Through monologue and song, she details the history of her past relationships – with partners, with food, with alcohol, and with herself. As she dances her way through each experience, a confident woman slowly unravels into a vulnerable one.
There is a lot to like about Torch, which is one of two Phoebe Éclair-Powell plays at this year’s Fringe Festival. Foremost on that list is Jess Mabel Jones as the main character. Having already made a name for herself as one of the collaborators in Backstage in Biscuit Land, Jones shows that she can carry a show on her own.She has formidable stage presence in both her strongest and most fragile moments.
Unfortunately, the elements around her don’t quite match up to her standards as a performer. Éclair-Powell’s writing, at times, doesn’t feel very naturalistic and seems to rely on overused expressions about dating and life in general. That sense of cliché is also present in the song choices – while always fun to listen to, Nirvana’s Smell Like Teen Spirit and Gossip’s Standing in the Way of Control are far too predictable. In a show that wants to explore how something generic can hide something so much more human, choosing such overused songs was a strange decision.
Zoe Spurr manipulates the lighting to create the almost-immersive feeling of being in a club, complete with bright glaring colours. Other than the songs themselves (sung beautifully by Jones, though the mic probably wasn’t needed), Alexandra Braithwaite’s use of sound is unassuming, and all the better for it. You never quite forget that it’s there, but it never detracts from the action on stage.
The story takes its most emotional turn in the final third, and Jones rises to the challenge. Glammed up in gold and glittery lipstick, she paints a heart-wrenching picture. Her physical transformation is a joy to watch, but it’s a pity that the writing doesn’t allow for more. Whether another actor could have pulled the role off as well as her is unanswerable, but it’s clear that, flaws and all, Jones has taken the character by the reins and made it her own. It’s an accomplished central performance, in spite of its context.