#218 - Shedding a Skin

Soho Theatre, W1D

A wittily fragile f***-up overshares: comparisons between Fleabag and Amanda Wilkin’s polished solo show are both inevitable and well-earned. Rather than copycatting, though, Wilkin’s monologue channels Fleabag energy towards questions of race, class and identity. Her Myah is a token, temporary mixed-heritage face in posh offices: too black for some, too white for others. Schooled by her Caribbean landlady, she strips off layers of herself and of the set, revealing a rawness beneath the klutzy sass. It’s a great, honest performance of a good piece of writing. A judging panel, including Fleabag author Phoebe Waller-Bridge, gave it the Verity Bargate Award.

#217 - and breathe...

Almeida Theatre, N1

David Jonsson – who hit prominence as one of the sexy profit-slaves in BBC1’s Industry in November – here gives a gentle, understated, physically precise interpretation of Yomi Sode’s poems about grief, family and culture. Jonsson is Junior, navigating the slow death of a great aunt alongside other members of a sprawling south London Nigerian clan. It’s as much about what goes unsaid or is communicated in code as what’s baldly stated, and Jonsson’s wry delivery is underpinned by Femi Temowo’s live score. When nativisim and the NHS are in the headlines it feels timely, and it’s richer than most monologues, but at 60 minutes also slight.

#216 - Skin Hunger

Stone Nest, Shaftesbury Avenue

Conceived under the second lockdown, when physical contact was suddenly, drastically curtailed, Dante or Die’s three monologues offer a one-on-one experience including the chance safely to hug or hold hands with performers wearing gloves and reaching through safety curtains. Opening under looser restrictions, the show has inevitably lost some power though the storytelling in this empty chapel on Shaftesbury Avenue remains an intensely distilled experience. One monologue details a romance and breakup, the second an attempt at reconciliation. The third, about the loss of a parent, mirrored my own experience and I found it intensely moving. An odd and imperfect piece of work, but testament to theatre-makers’ imagination, and their ability to make a virtue of necessity.

#215 - Scaramouche Jones of the Seven White Masks

Wilton's Music Hall,

After decades of picaresque global wanderings, an absurd clown tries to amuse the child victims of a concentration camp whose graves he has dug, then spends the remaining decades until his death on Millennium eve – his 100th birthday - re-enacting his routine. Writer-performer Justin Butcher’s 2001 solo show is a well-crafted piece of storytelling, and its actorliness suits Wilton’s well. But it’s an uncomfortable watch: the white-faced Scaramouche passes through the more-or-less abusive hands of several masters and friends but is oblivious to wider events until the Holocaust lends the story unearned gravitas. The show’s reliance on comic Caribbean and Arab accents has also not aged well. Troubling.

#214 - Noel Coward: Art & Style

Guildhall Art Gallery

Noel Coward was a child star, composer, playwright, actor, director, anecdotalist, spy, painter and as nearly out as a gay man as his times and temperament allowed. The Guildhall’s admirable exhibition covers every aspect of his six-decade career, while showing how carefully Coward crafted and modulated his own enduring image: clipped, immaculate, urbane. It was a lived pose, presented in more or less filtered form through the work, press coverage, holiday snaps and caricatures. There are gorgeous things here, from Gertrude Lawrence’s stage frocks to Coward’s 1920s makeup box and 1960s Jamaican shirt. Too, too divine.

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