Bunker Theatre, London – until 26 May 2018
Damsel Productions brings Izzy Tennyson’s latest play, Grotty, to the Bunker Theatre for a limited run this spring, following on from their recent collaboration on Brute at the Soho Theatre. Directed by Hannah Hauer-King, the play concludes the Bunker’s explosive Spring Season with a sharp look at London’s lesbian subculture – a topic rarely explored onstage – that she hopes will “engage a diverse audience”.
A semi-autobiographical piece, it all centres around Rigby (played by Tennyson), who’s a relative newcomer to East London’s lesbian scene – and consequently finds herself going for the slightly older woman, with more experience and (usually) “a lovely flat”. She quickly learns that everyone knows pretty much everyone, making for tense conversations and awkward encounters all round; when she’s in a relationship with Toad, Natty (Toad’s ex), is a constant discomfiting presence, and the Witch’s identity comes as something of a shock. But whose calls is Rigby dodging? And what does she really want?
On top of immersing herself in this new environment, Rigby is grappling with grief and mental health issues that lead her onto a path of self-destruction – as well as this it’s something of a coming-of-age story, as she wrestles with her identity and place in the world. There are many aspects of this central character that I’m sure most people will be able to relate to in one way or another, even if they’re not treading on exactly the same path. As heavy as that sounds, Grotty also manages to be incredibly funny; Tennyson’s script is peppered with witty observations and dark humour.
The play is smartly directed by Hauer-King, mostly focusing on the central performance space but also bringing characters in from all angles; having them spring up from within the audience makes us a part of Rigby’s world, and a natural focus for her monologues.
Rebekah Hinds’ Toad appears to be confident and settled in her lifestyle, but that belies a neediness that none of her relationships seem able to fulfil – least of all one with Rigby; As Witch, Grace Chilton presents us with a hardened fetishist who seems to only be after the next pleasure, but she’s also hiding something, though it’s darker & more personal than you could ever anticipate. Anita-Joy Uwajeh makes a memorable impression as both the masculine, omnipresent Natty, and the vibrant Josie (Rigby’s friend & object of fantasy), with great stage presence and fantastic comic timing. Clare Gollop makes a brief, but rather moving, appearance as Mother.
Izzy Tennyson’s Rigby is full of character, with irreverent & conversational delivery as she addresses the audience. You are absolutely with her all the way; laughing along with her excellent one-liners, and transfixed as she goes through life-changing moments, struggling all the while.
My verdict? A sharp new play that’s full to the brim with humour, as well as hiding a dark heart – cleverly directed and brilliantly performed.