Review for Stripped; Wednesday 21st November 2018; Rose Theatre, Edge Hill Arts Centre
Succour Punch Theatre’s mission statement is to create work that ‘focuses on social, sexual and gender injustice.’ So, not that big a task to take on for your debut show then, right? Read on and find out if Stripped really does bare all.
A lot of shows and theatre companies when first starting up, try and challenge themselves and really take on a big topic that shows their company is out to make a statement and not just to be another company that puts on any old show that is there purely to entertain. Succour Punch does just that with their debut performance. What they have chosen as the topic of their debut subject is massively under the spotlight. Sexual and gender injustice is seemingly in the news almost every other day, especially lately with the ongoing rape case that accused the young girl involved of seemingly consenting to sex due to the type of underwear she was wearing! As a result, there is a certain amount of awareness about these issues that simply were not around a few years ago.
Stripped is a show that has a lot of potential. I absolutely commend the company for attempting to take on these huge issues that are so relevant in today’s society. My issue though, is that whilst I commend the attempt to address these issues, the play seems to have bitten off much more than it can chew. There are SIXTEEEN different issues that the play attempts to address, ranging from: paedophilia to male domestic violence, to rape and all the way to the issues of sexual politics in Northern Ireland. However, there is a sense that the sheer number of topics that the play tries to cover leaves the actual material within the piece somewhat lacking. If the creative team behind the scenes focussed more on getting the messages across on maybe half of the issues that are touched upon and lose the scenes don’t make the cut, perhaps the piece will have more of a hard-hitting punch behind it and would add some detail and greater reinforce these very sensitive subjects.
There are some genuinely really nice pieces within this play that touch on some very important subjects. In particular, the scene with Rover the Dog is beautifully subtle and really highlights domestic abuse in a very clever way. Nevertheless, due to so many issues and so many things being seemingly crammed into a two-act play, some of the messages are lost as the audience is still digesting what has happened from a previous scene when they’re hit with the punchline of the last.
The directing throughout the play was of a good standard and there are some very deft touches in terms of creativity, juxtaposing scenes and approaching the issues with care and sensitivity. However, some scenes quite simply need more work and structure. The scene with the school boys boasting about sex is very Inbetweeners-esque and clearly addresses teenage male bravado. But it is obviously an improvised scene that has formed from the actors and not had the text reined in by the director(s). My reaction to this scene – and as a result, the scenes that followed it – was that the actors lost credibility and that they then had to try and win myself (and other audience members) back into the world the play was creating.
This scene – and others much like it – have a hell of a lot of potential to be gut-punching and darkly funny. However, not a lot of the content is addressed as deeply as it could be, so a lot of the scenes seem to have been glossed over. Thus, come across as slightly neglected and amateur. Furthermore, this is the same for the comedic relief throughout the scenes. It feels that the company have tried to accompany with jokes and comedy throughout the play to lighten the mood. Sadly, due to the way in which it is approached, the jokes feel a bit cheap and often don’t land with an outburst of laughter. Instead, often receiving the odd chuckle from the more light-hearted audience members.
The acting has a lot of ups and some lovely pieces of characterisation, but sadly, also a number of downs. Which I think could have been improved with more consistent directing and a more consistently developed script. Acting in a play that is essentially a load of different sketches and characters is hard enough as it is. But when the development level of each sketch is also at different standards, this can make it even harder for the actors involved.
Daryl Blackburn is a constant form of comedy throughout this piece and brings a high energy level to each scene he performs in which is commendable considering the amount of different scenes he is on stage for. My only qualm though would be that he seems to play a similar character in each scene he performs in. A more developed sense of self-awareness of both himself and his character would bring a new edge to his performance next time.
Jamie Dunning is a smooth operator in every scene – and transition – he features in throughout Stripped. He seems to bring a different energy to every scene he is in and his intentions on each scene are clear to see which is highly impressive given the variety on show. In future though, I would recommend he beware of his tendency to use the same habits repeatedly for different scenes i.e. the nervous tick that he uses when displaying an uneasiness within a character.
Andy McQuaker: His first interaction with the audience is somewhat intimidating. Acting as something of a doorman into the world of Stripped, his tall and well set physique creates an air of intimidation and darkness. His next scene however, is a complete contrast to this and I would say that he goes too far in his interpretation of a teenage boy. Bordering on the ridiculous. I will say though, that his acting in the Rover the Dog scene (I forget its actual title) is sublime and he really knocks the audience off their seats on a sensitive and often over-looked issue.
Faye Draper is a bundle of energy throughout this piece. She is an actress that is noticed whenever she walks on stage and her presence immediately noticed. Particularly brought to light when she is involved in the girls toilets scene and really plays the high energy of the other actresses in this scene to her advantage.
Jazz Jago is your typical scouse loudmouth for all the right reasons. She has energy and passion in every line she delivers and brings a deft comedic touch to scenes that often have very serious subject matter. An attention to detail in some of her lines would be some advice for further development.
Ciara O’Neill is ever-present and ever changing throughout this piece. She takes sensitive subject material and deals with them in a soft and mature approach. Her technique to keep an entire audience focusses on just her stood behind a desk for the ‘Rose Petals’ scene is fantastic and offers an insight into the commitment she has gone to to develop her roles throughout the performance.
Rosie O’Neill is bodacious and energetic in the roles she takes up. Her approach to each sketch she is involved in is clearly quite thorough and the physicality she brings to each character is fun and quirky. In terms of the characters she plays though, every character felt pretty similar and didn’t really have an awful lot of variety. That isn’t necessarily her fault to be fair given that she isn’t directing herself, although a greater awareness of what she is doing in each scene would aid her development. Following that though, her portrayal of the spoilt princess was brilliant and I revelled in finding myself loathing her.
Which leaves us with Sarah Sharp: the founder of Succour Punch Theatre. Her stage presence is clear throughout and very strong. Sarah has potential to be a marvellous actress and can quite clearly navigate the stage with craft and expertise. Sarah is clearly fully immersed in the world that has been created throughout this piece. Which is as expected given that it was her vision that has brought this play to fruition.
Overall, Stripped has potential to be a powerful and inspiring piece of theatre. It makes a genuine attempt to create awareness over these very much in the spotlight issues. What it would need to make the next step and to develop into a more defined piece of work would be: less content and more detail in the issues addressed, a greater detail in the direction of each scene and finer tuning of the mechanics and finally a greater attention to detail and possibly a more subtle approach to the comedic relief throughout the play.
Theatrevolt Rating: ★★☆☆☆