Reviewed – 3rd September 2018
“Good writing can often carry a shaky performance, however it does not work the other way around”
Rough is advertised on the Theatre N16 website as ‘a new play about love’. A very vague but open title, it provides the audience with little indication of what is to come. Kirstie Marshall, who also stars as the protagonist Jade, writes this short one-person play. She tells a story from her adolescence growing up in ‘a Valley in the middle of nowhere’ where Rob, the boy of her dreams, turns out not to be a boy, but transgender. This shocking revelation starts a chain of events in which Jade seemingly learns about gender, bullying and love.
Whilst watching this performance I was conscious that I was reviewing Marshall as both the performer, and the writer. This is a revealing and courageous position to put yourself in, no matter how experienced the writer/performer is, and I was impressed with Kirstie Marshall the performer. From the outset, she provided buckets of energy in presenting a piece that is clearly very well-rehearsed and fully committed to. If anything, at times, it appeared too well rehearsed and the piece needed some room for spontaneity. There were often moments of Jade telling anecdotes that she knew were ‘funny’, however it would have been more satisfying in these moments to spend more time connecting with the audience rather than trying to force laughs. Overall, however, she carried the piece with assured confidence.
The same cannot be said for the writing. What seemed to be an attempt at creating a polemic assessment on gender and love was instead a fractured and incoherent attempt. This was highlighted by a series of inconsistencies in the plot: Jade obsesses over Rob’s body at the start of the play then claims their relationship was not about looks, their romance is a fleeting crush at best yet she suddenly announces that she has always been in love with him, and she criticises her town for being narrow minded and insensitive yet is happy for her friend to spread Rob’s secret to the entire school. Indeed, the way Jade treats Rob, who actually trusts her with a deeply sensitive secret, is awful. Then, at the end of the play, they somehow end up together and Jade seems to have a new-found understanding for transgender issues. All of this could be argued as character choices; however, it came across as inexperienced writing and a lack of clear vision as to what the message of the play is.
As mentioned earlier, writing and acting in your own play is a tough job, and one not to be taken lightly. The skills required to act are incredibly different from the skills needed to write an entertaining and coherent play. Good writing can often carry a shaky performance, however it does not work the other way around. Marshall should be given credit for the work she has clearly put in, and learn from this difficult venture.
Reviewed by Edward Martin
Theatre N16 until 6th September