Maddie Rice (star of the recent tour of Fleabag) brings her debut play Pickle Jar to Soho Theatre, following on from an acclaimed engagement at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Kate Pesskin directs this 70-minute one woman show, which touches on victim-blaming, grief and being a responsible adult – it is currently in the middle of a limited run in Soho’s Upstairs venue.
‘Miss’ is an English teacher at an all-girls school, though she’s currently taking a bit of time away from the job. As well as teaching English, she also has to come up with PSHE sessions for her form group, invariably trying to teach them about topics (such as ‘stranger danger’) that they are already well aware of – but that doesn’t stop her from doing her best to be creative about things… Despite this, she is well liked by her students – though not quite as popular as her best friend & housemate Mairead or the object of many a student’s affection, Mr Ellis. When her boyfriend dumps her, Mairead suggests they all go out for a midweek blowout, so they can let off a bit of steam and perhaps find her a rebound. In the end ‘Miss’ drowns her sorrows (with Mr Ellis for company), does some ill-advised dancing, and has an experience that will change her life forever…
Pickle Jar is an incredibly deceptive show, as it starts out all belly laughs as ‘Miss’ bumbles around, never quite as cool as her best friend, but slowly & steadily the tone changes and takes you to a much darker place. Maddie Rice hooks you in from the get-go, putting the audience at ease with increasingly funny lines & scenes; how she manages to completely inhabit each and every one of the characters in the story is quite remarkable. Mairead and troubled student Carly Hancock are just as well developed and engaging as ‘Miss’ herself. Rice’s instinct for comedy (in both writing and performance) means there’s an almost constant stream of laughter, on occasions almost bringing the show to a complete standstill as the audience ends up in hysterics.
The way details of the story are slowly teased out feels very natural, as well as lending a little suspense to proceedings – and at some points you feel like you know what’s coming, but hope against hope that you’re wrong. That Rice manages to get you invested in the characters so quickly and so strongly is astonishing, and speaks volumes of the quality of the writing as well as the need to talk about these kinds of issues.
At first glance, Alice Hallifax’s set design might look a little baffling, but it’s based on the mound outside the school which ‘Miss’ goes to sit on when she needs to reflect. Whilst the play could easily be performed in a blank black box space, this design adds a nice touch and varies the visuals a bit; having little plant shoots starting to burst through is very clever, and a great little embellishment.
A show that covers such heavy and serious topics could easily be incredibly laboured and hard to watch, however Pickle Jar manages to not only be entertaining & engaging, but also inspiring & empowering. Instead of leaving with an overwhelming feeling of despair that such terrible things can & do happen, you’re reassured that there is a way back from them – and to try & trust people when they say you can tell them anything.
My verdict? A masterclass in storytelling from Maddie Rice, bringing incredibly relevant topics to the stage in an entertaining & dramatic way – a compelling watch from start to finish.
Pickle Jar runs at Soho Theatre (Upstairs) until 10 November 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.