Amanda Wilkin’s Verity Bargate Award-winning, one-woman extravaganza Shedding a Skin is a play about loneliness and connection that might just be the perfect reintroduction to theatre. Broke, single, and newly unemployed (I’ll refrain from spoiling the precise circumstances of shit-losing under which the job loss occurs), our protagonist Myah (played by Wilkin herself) finds herself at rock-bottom. She apprehensively begins renting a single-bed room on the fifteenth floor of a tower block in a rapidly gentrifying section of London, cohabiting with an old (‘this woman could have made it into her nineties already? Hard to tell’) woman named Mildred. What follows is the flourishment of an unlikely yet joyful intergenerational friendship – although one fraught with tension.
What luck for the Soho to have plucked this gem of a script as the Bargate winner, only to find that the author is also a bloody brilliant performer (Wilkin has a varied theatrical acting career under her belt, ranging from the West End to The Bunker). From the moment she steps on stage, illuminated in a strip of vivid green light (lighting design by Jess Bernberg), Wilkin electrifies it. Her playing of Myah is an utter joy to watch; she is delightfully dorky, with a hugely expressive face and unruly hands that twist, turn and gesticulate wildly as they unravel the story.
This is a play about loneliness, and the way it can seep insidiously into every corner of our being without us even noticing. It’s a play about connection, and the hunt for it. It’s also a play about not feeling enough – in Myah’s case, not ambitious enough, not lovable enough, not black enough. When Myah laments, “the space between where I want to be and where I am is deafening”, an audible sound of resonance hums across the audience. This is a relatable tale of feeling lost and, emerging bleary-eyed from a year of confusing isolation, it’s one I think we all need to hear.
Peppered throughout the show are moments at which we are flung to new locations and beckoned into small instances of human connection – a blindfolded Muslim boy seeking a hug, a group of employees learning BSL for a new colleague, a woman at the Post Office trying to help a stranger. Accentuating these are sparkling images of neuron-like structures which flood the stage. These moments jar me at first; they are an interruption to the straight storytelling form which I’m not expecting. But they are touching, and do well to illustrate the play’s message: connection is a form of rebellion.
The distinction between Myah and Mildred is beautifully drawn with direction from Elayce Ismail. Mildred is embodied with such truthfulness that I begin to feel that there really is another body in the space. I grow to love Mildred very quickly – her no-nonsense attitude, her determination to hold Myah accountable and support her growth in the only way she knows how: tough love.
As the play builds to its climax, Myah sheds the set of its clean lines and muted white fabrics (design by Rosanna Vize) to reveal a beauty and vibrancy underneath that we always suspected was there. It’s satisfying to watch. The climactic moment itself, one of raw emotion and protest as torrential rain pours on Piccadilly Circus, didn’t provide me with the same kind of satisfaction. I wanted to be immersed and enveloped by the rain and the enormity of it, but I felt a little like I was watching through a window. And yet, I acknowledge that perhaps that is how it should have been, because this moment was not for me, and my whiteness, and my never having had to protest for my right to merely exist.
Still, both Shedding a Skin, and Wilkin herself, leave me with a sense of renewal, rejuvenation, and the welcome belief that healing can be found in the most unexpected of places – and people.
Shedding a Skin is on at Soho Theatre until 17th July, with a livestream on 15th July. More info and tickets here.