“I’m afraid of the skin I’m in.” Quick out of the blocks in Soho Theatre’s re-opening season is Amanda Wilkin’s Verity Bargate Award-winning debut play, Shedding A Skin. The run has socially distanced seating, but for those who can’t attend in person there will be a live-streamed performance on Thursday 15th July.
Maya is having an identity crisis; she is finding it increasingly difficult to stay in a job for a significant length of time, plus she has recently found herself single – which also rendered her homeless and in need of assistance from her parents. Again. Undeterred, she finds herself a new job and warily knocks on Mildred’s door on the 15th floor, looking for a place to live. Mrs T (as she is known to the community) instantly reminds Maya of her grandma, and she takes comfort in this familiarity – much needed after the turbulent way in which she left her previous job. Her new living arrangements also provide some stability as she tries to decide how she should approach her latest workplace: stand out & stand her ground like colleague Kemi, or try & blend into the background like usual? Though her friendships with Mildred & Kemi do make her feel a bit better, she risks getting too comfortable and isolating herself further from the world around her.
The beauty of Shedding A Skin is that it has moments of real specificity that will speak to particular sections of the audience, but the piece as a whole is entirely universal. Worrying about fitting in at a new workplace is something most of us will have worried about, though the reasons for Maya’s uncertainty will resonate more keenly with some than others (“You can smell the privilege”). What comes across incredibly strongly is a sense of hope, and a belief in the power of connection; even pre-pandemic this was becoming a bit of a buzzword, with people finding more ways of interacting virtually but missing out on physical interaction – however, since the enforced isolation periods that resulted from COVID this can be seen in a new light, its importance no longer lost on us.
Wilkin, as ever, is a joy to watch. Her unique delivery is made for a show of this kind, highlighting the humour and also allowing her character to confide in the audience. She is also incredibly physical, adding an extra dimension to the performance – it has terrific comedy value as well as emotional power, depending on the exact situation at the time.
What brings the whole production together are the intermittent moments of reflection, where a voiceover recounts a stories about other people living miles away (getting closer & closer as the play nears its conclusion), and the steady reveal of the set (designed by Rosanna Vize) – starting off as a green strip enclosed in black, its own skin is gradually shed as Maya goes on her journey. Connection, self-development & the act of making a fresh start are all key to this story, and these aspects are reflected in the show’s creative decisions. A really well-rounded production.
My verdict? An engaging debut play, full of humour & hope – Wilkin is a joy to watch.