SHEDDING A SKIN – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – Award-winning new writing

Written and performed by Amanda Wilkin

Directed by Elayce Ismail

Soho Theatre until 17 July

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/shedding-a-skin/

At a time when Black voices are joyously, if belatedly and still insufficiently, resounding throughout the theatrical community, it is befitting that this powerhouse of new writing reopens with Amanda Wilkin’s spiky but beguiling monologue, winner of the 2020 Verity Bargate Award, and with a press night during the week of the 73rd anniversary of the Windrush migration. The tale of Myah, a young mixed race woman rudderless in the big city after quitting a job and a relationship in quick succession, only to find herself forming an unexpected bond with the feisty, mysterious, older Black lady she lodges with, it’s a rather lovely piece that preaches the importance of never judging a book by its cover, and also of never underestimating or writing off ones elders.

Wilkin is a born storyteller, masterfully evoking vivid locations and situations with a command of language that is at once comic, relatable and concise. As a performer she combines a likeable stage presence, a clown’s goofy physicality and the lithe malleability of a dancer. The wired, coltish energy she brings to Myah is in striking contrast to the watchful stillness with which she invests the saturnine Mildred, who increasingly becomes the central figure as the play draws on, and more of her fascinating back story is revealed.

Running in counterpoint to the central story, and punctuating it at regular intervals, is a succession of snapshots of other, apparently unrelated lives transforming themselves -shedding skins, as it were- starting off nearly six hundred miles away but getting ever closer with each fragment, adding a soothing but urgent universality to Wilkin’s script. Rosanna Vize’s set provides another satisfying metaphor for the play’s title and principal theme, transforming from a soulless, roller blinded box to an organic, light-filled eyrie by the end of Elayce Ismail’s nicely judged, if occasionally over-busy staging.

If Shedding A Skin sometimes feels more like a dramatic storytelling rather than a true drama, only fully coming to powerful theatrical life in a sequence where a frustrated Myah rages at Mildred, it is a wonderfully engaging one, full of heart and humanity. The ending brought a real lump to my throat. This is vital, Black woman-centric writing, but it is absolutely for everybody. Enthusiastically recommended.

Photograph of Amanda Wilkin by Helen Murray

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