Tiger Under the Skin
RADA Gielgud Theatre
Reviewed – 26th June 2019
“powerful lines and relatable images will remain with the audience as they leave the theatre”
Tom Kelsey performs his own one-man show on home turf, at the RADA Theatre in central London, where he trained. In spite of the intensely personal nature of this piece, Tom relaxes into the monologue. His openness makes for both an endearing and frightening performance. The audience is taken on a journey through an average day which spins out of control as Tom uncharacteristically accepts a friend’s offer to join on a night out.
The missing piece of the puzzle is the confession he opens with: Tom suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. The play portrays his suffering through a simple but powerful animal metaphor. The events of the night lead to the panic under his skin to surface once more, manifesting in complete tiger metamorphosis.
A long dark, wooden table at the back of the room makes up the set which acts, at different points, as park bench, tube and skyscraper. A raw and compelling performance renders every new scene completely believable.
Impressive execution of sound and lighting (Julian Starr and Simisola Majekodunmi), allows for an immersive experience. Tom is perfectly on cue, miming or reacting to the noises invading his world: doors opening, phones ringing and dogs barking. Tom’s larger than life movements, directed by Gabrielle Moleta, swiping through the air to answer his phone, for instance, ironically render this world more realistic and the audience becomes ever more involved.
The lighting emits bold colours, framing specific scenes to provide structure. The stark colours invoke emotive responses: light blue streams onto the “tube”, a tranquilising calm before the storm; red flashes indicate the onset of panic; deep purple offers pathos when dark thoughts threaten to override his joy; an electric orange heralds the terror of the transformation.
The standard of Tom’s acting is high, carrying the play forward on his own. He adopts multiple roles to convey his mother and friend Dave, breaking up the lengthy monologue and injecting the performance with some light humour.
As sounds reverberate through the room and Tom welcomes us in, directing his gaze straight into the huddle of bodies below, there is an unnerving sense that we are not only in Tom’s world, but in Tom’s head. His gestures are over the top and inviting: every word he utters is extended through action. This is a beautiful exposition of the need for control over every aspect of life, conveying the obsessive nature of his illness. By the end, however, this is replaced by the frightening movements of the tiger released from inside him. However, it is in human form, rather than as a tiger, that Tom conveys the most debilitating qualities of his daily plight. The final scenes of the play are more confusing and jump between places without transition or clear explanation. Although this succeeds in conveying the tumult inside his head, it leaves the audience a little adrift.
Although spectacular make-up transforms Tom, the stripy orange tiger is less impressive than the honest and creative ways Tom finds to convey his mental health in the first half of the play. The powerful lines and relatable images will remain with the audience as they leave the theatre.
Reviewed by Amy Faulkner
Photography by Sarah Hickson
Tiger Under the Skin
RADA Gielgud Theatre as part of Festival 19