Leicester Square Theatre, London – until 14 April 2018
Guest reviewer: Melinda Haunton
Okay, look. I’m old, I’m grumpy, it’s been winter for six months. I accidentally ordered duck with cold, sour quinoa as a pre-theatre dinner. The word vlogger makes me retch a bit. In mid-show, I swallowed a weirdly non-evanescent bubble from the bubble machine I turned out to be sat under, and it made me cough, turning me into the most irritating audience member. All the omens were against tonight.
But omens mean bugger all when it comes to theatre, praise be. I loved this one. Siobhan Macmillan’s one-woman show uses a modern fairytale to bring a series of women vividly to life in a rich, action-packed hour of fantastical theatre.
Most memorably, we meet hopeless vlogger (urgh) ShyGirl who opens the show with her confiding, self-critiquing, abjectly ignorable YouTube channel, and the powerful witch Shivvers who replaces her as our not-quite-heroine, after one humiliation too many breaks ShyGirl’s passivity. With many minor characters to point up the lesson, the show wants us to think about the ways which we (particularly women) find to torture ourselves, and to pick holes in perfection. Any weakness (those commonplace female flaws of anxiety, gluttony, vanity… erm, cannibalism) is enough to doom a character to be less than perfect. It could make a woman angry if she thought about it too long.
But it’s no lecture. Macmillan fills the stage with physicality, mimicry, gloriously fluent swearing, shadow-play and more. Most importantly, she is hilarious, constantly tricking our expectations, delighting in destroying the fourth wall, before donning yet another convincing character mask. She toys with the effects, making transparent the trickery, and using them as additional characters. The stage never feels empty. The hour flies past.
If you take a grammar pedant with you, give them a stiff drink first. Macmillan’s monologue wanders through tenses, shifts first to the third person and back, in-scene and mid-sentence. Occasionally, characterisation fails her and it’s unclear who is speaking. But that’s as much the point as it is a flaw in playing. We are all living, and narrating, remembering and self-critiquing, all at once. No one’s internal voice is perfectly literate. It’s far too busy giving us reasons to dislike ourselves.
It’s impressive that with this feminist consciousness and a stream of jokey asides, Macmillan still manages to build tension and eeriness as the evening progresses. There’s space for unease and a feeling that there’s magic in the air. Waiting for the tube home, with the Northern Line’s platform rats more than usually squeaky, I almost felt they had been conjured by Shivvers. She lingers.
My verdict? Go and see this. There’s real originality, fun and spark. It’s a short run in a small venue, so book quickly. And for god’s sake, don’t eat at Duck and Waffle first. Get some decent dim sum like you really wanted, you fool.