Tag Archives: Anna Reid

Soft Animals

Soft Animals
★★★★

Soho Theatre

Soft Animals

Soft Animals

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 11th February 2019

★★★★

 

“written with tender intelligence and a pinch of knowing wit”

 

The Soho Theatre is renowned for championing new writing, offering platforms to the brightest new playwrights this country has to offer. Soft Animals, the debut play by Holly Robinson, is a solid example of this. A pacy examination of ethics, exploring unorthodox friendships amidst an age of blame and hate.

Sarah (Ellie Piercy) is scrubbing graffitied obscenities off her front door. Frankie (Bianca Stephens) is struggling to do the most basic of daily tasks. Since the tragic accident that brought these two women together, the last thing either expected would be to find comfort and solace from each other’s company. Battling through the mountain of hate mail and social media death threats, it is their shared need to self-destruct in order to deal with their pain, which strangely offers them a chance to save one another.

Holly Robinson certainly does a creditable job on her first play. Soft Animals is written with tender intelligence and a pinch of knowing wit. You can tell she delights in drip feeding the audience the integral bits of information, gradually forming the bigger picture of what the accident entailed. The suspense that ensues makes for compelling viewing.

The odd bits of commentary on racial inequality and stereotyping, as well as the acknowledgment of still recognisable class structures, adds relevancy, even if at times it feels like it’s executed heavy handedly. The small yet priceless comedic observations on 21st-century life help to bring lighter moments to what otherwise would be an awful amount of troubling darkness.

The two actors nimbly dance around the shifting status of their characters’ relationship as it moves from being like mother and daughter, to patient and carer, to being part romantic, to part dependent.

Performed in the round, in a very intimate space, you can feel the claustrophobic intensity of Sarah and Frankie’s connection. You are very much a part of the action which makes it completely absorbing. The clever design of soft-play like furniture that affix together in building block fashion, is an understated nod to lost childhood which becomes a significant part of the plot (without giving too much away).

We live in a world where online trolling and anger-filled social media posts occurs ferociously. Robinson uses this cultural climate to colour the environment in which her characters have to battle. It places the play completely in our zeitgeist. But what truly stands out is the multi-faceted qualities of female friendships and how intense a female bond can be.

 

Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Helen Maybanks

 


Soft Animals

Soho Theatre until 2nd March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Sugar Baby | ★★★★ | May 2018
Flesh & Bone | ★★★★★ | July 2018
There but for the Grace of God (Go I) | ★★★★ | August 2018
Fabric | ★★★★ | September 2018
The Political History of Smack and Crack | ★★★★ | September 2018
Pickle Jar | ★★★★★ | October 2018
Cuckoo | ★★★ | November 2018
Chasing Bono | ★★★★ | December 2018
Laura | ★★★½ | December 2018
No Show | ★★★★ | January 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

The Sweet Science of Bruising – 4 Stars

Bruising

The Sweet Science of Bruising

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th October 2018

★★★★

“it doesn’t quite land a knockout punch, however, this is important and compulsive viewing”

 

In Joy Wilkinson’s richly entertaining new play, four women, from diverse segments of Victorian society, find solace from the tedium and oppression of their day-to-day lives in the novel world of all-female boxing. Slugging it out in the backrooms of Islington to be crowned ‘Lady Boxing Champion of the World’, they provoke an aghast (and sometimes violent) response from patriarchal, ‘polite’ society.

Cannily, Wilkinson allows the status of these spectacles to remain ambiguous. Are they a kind of proto-feminist display of solidarity and valour? An exploitative circus, choreographed, literally, by the Svengali-like Professor Sharp (an excellent Bruce Alexander)? Or, as one of the fighter’s relatives strikingly suggests towards the end, an act of mere egotism on the part of the participants? The strength of the play is in its timely suggestion that, in rigidly oppressive societies, simple solutions are hard to come by and ‘progress’ can be tricky to measure.

Wilkinson has worked extensively for television which comes across in the play’s engaging, televisual-style sharp, snappy scenes and intertwining storylines. In fact, the evening feels a little akin to a Netflix box-set (one might see certain similarities with the streaming series Glow). A steady directorial hand is provided by Kirsty Patrick Ward who stages the text with the pace and clarity it demands. Anna Reid’s set-design, somewhat resembling a boxing-ring, uses the intimacy of the Southwark’s studio space to its full effect. From a lineup of strong performances, Fiona Skinner’s brittle, defiant Polly Stokes stands out.

At times, the narrative is pursued a little too urgently. The thoughtful questions posed in the first act get somewhat submerged by the haywire over-plotting of the second: promising narrative threads are rushed through or got slightly lost. Further, whereas the play neatly navigates its individual storylines, one was eager to see more of the women together, comparing their experiences. A bit more time with the boxing matches themselves would also have been appreciated (especially if it meant further opportunity to showcase Alison de Burgh’s brilliant fight direction).

It doesn’t quite land a knockout punch, however, this is important and compulsive viewing.

 

Reviewed by Joe Spence

Photography by Mitzide Margary

 


The Sweet Science of Bruising

Southwark Playhouse until 27th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Bananaman | ★★★ | January 2018
Pippin | ★★★★ | February 2018
Old Fools | ★★★★★ | March 2018
The Country Wife | ★★★ | April 2018
Confidence | ★★ | May 2018
The Rink | ★★★★ | May 2018
Why is the Sky Blue? | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Wasted | ★★★ | September 2018

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com