Reviewed – 26th October 2018
“the characters, despite being created only through shifts in Rice’s voice and posture, are three-dimensional and complex”
In what presents as a comedy monologue, but quickly evolves into a troubling modern tale, Maddie Rice writes and performs the part of Miss, a well-meaning and slightly prudish teacher. At school, Miss fills the traditional role of a stable, sexless mentor to her precocious charges while in her private life she is between relationships and desperately at sea amid the dangers of urban dating. The comic potential of two worlds in conflict is successfully mined for the first half, as Rice skilfully conjures a recognisable collection of characters.
Then, just as we wonder where all this is going, a tragic event at school triggers Miss to begin to unravel. Fighting off the intrusive concern of the school’s councillor, Laura, with her wheedling voice and mindfulness techniques, Miss hits the Pina Coladas and revisits the nightclub where she had experienced an assault at the hands of a colleague, about which she had been silent.
Several details elevate the showcase above the usual wry look at modern life. The direction by Katie Pesskin is crisp, with smart use of lighting (Mark Dymock) and sound (Dominic Kennedy). The script is genuinely funny and the characters, despite being created only through shifts in Rice’s voice and posture, are three-dimensional and complex, from handsome food-tech teacher Eric and jolly but morally bereft flatmate Mairead, to charming Raj at the corner shop and an array of street-wise pupils.
Although this is her writing debut, Rice is an accomplished performer having toured in the stage version of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’ and played various parts in Comedy Central’s ‘Every Blank Ever’. Her role in ‘Fleabag’ provides a jumping off point for the character of Miss, but here the bawdy Saturday Night style is mellowed by an emotional authenticity and pin sharp observation. For example, the simple set (Ben Target and Tom Hartshorne) features two mounds and a sapling to represent the place in a school playing field where the girls have their heart-to-hearts. In the script, too, character is never sacrificed for easy laughs. When Miss admits that it’s high time she bought toilet rolls, kitchen rolls and sausage rolls for the flat, we realise it’s because Mairead has been excusing her these duties, exposing both the flatmate’s softer side and the extent of Miss’s fragility.
All this gives a powerful sense of reality to the show’s narrative and themes, but as serious as these are, the comedy never goes cold. Brilliant writing and performance are vital to pull of this balancing act and this one woman show gives us both barrels.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Ali Wright
Soho Theatre until 10th November
Previously reviewed at this theatre: