Friday, 3 October 2014

Theatre review: The Edge of Our Bodies

The Gate has recently played host to a number of memorable monologues, and although Adam Rapp's The Edge of Our Bodies features, for a few moments, a second character1, in practice it's another one-woman show. Shannon Tarbet plays Bernadette, who's 16, pregnant, and has run away from her Connecticut boarding school to visit her boyfriend in New York. But before she gets a chance to break the news it becomes obvious he's trying to avoid her. Instead, Bernadette spends some time with her boyfriend's dying father, before an ill-advised encounter in a bar, as she resolves to decide on her own what to do about her situation. The Edge of Our Bodies is the first in a new season focusing on female identity entitled "Who Does She Think She Is?" and the journey of a teenage girl is an obvious fit to this theme.

But it's a fitting description in ways that are harder to pin down as well, as Christopher Haydon's production sees Bernadette gradually adapt the way she presents herself and her story to the audience. For almost the first half-hour she reads haltingly from her diary, but as she grows more confident she becomes more physical and confrontational, acting out her experiences rather than just reading them.

The story Bernadette tells is often banal, but the production imbues it with an eerie sense, thanks in no small part to Lily Arnold's design. Clever, detailed sets that are almost unbelievably ambitious for a fringe venue have long been a Gate trademark, and so it is with this creepy boudoir whose walls are entirely covered in mirrors. That brief appearance by Trevor Michael Georges as a second character sheds some light on where the girl has been sitting all this time, adding a further question mark over how much of her story is true.

There's a great deal of detail in Tarbet's performance: When reading from her diary she pauses and stumbles over words in a way she doesn't when speaking to the audience, smiling over details she'd forgotten she'd written; when she suddenly breaks into speeches from Jean Genet's The Maids, the school play Bernadette's auditioning for, her English accent is shaky like an American schoolgirl's would be; her smoking is a teenage affectation, she doesn't inhale. The outstanding production perhaps puts pressure on Rapp's play to turn out to be more profound than it actually is, leading to disappointment - you can't help leaving with the sneaky suspicion that this is a rather simple play given a better production and performance than it perhaps deserves.

The Edge of Our Bodies by Adam Rapp is booking until the 18th of October at the Gate Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

1not a spoiler; or if it is, it's one the theatre's cast list gives away anyway

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