DEAD SKIN is a new play by a young playwright, 19 year old Laneikka Denne, and although the author declares, in her program notes, that the play is not auto-biographical, there is a vicissitude in the energy of the company, particularly, as the writer is also playing the leading character, Andie. It is that that makes this production a truly purgatorial experience as we witness so large a number of raw emotional crises.
Andie, driven by the usual hormonal shiftings that go on in a young schoolgirl, has a passionate crush on her best friend at school, Maggie (Ruby Maishman), who does not, it turns out, feel at all the same way - a huge kissing moment becomes quite complicated for all of us. Andie, further, belongs to a single parent family, brought up by her father, Henry (Abe Mitchell), and his partner, step-mother, Audrey (Camila Ponte Alvarez), and she finds that situation a volatile trigger, as Audrey determinedly wants to be the good step-mother. "She is not my mother" is an angry undertone of Andie's behaviour. For, Andie aches, aches, for a knowledge of her real mother. And we enter the story on the night that exploded her life - declare the visuals on one of the walls of the set. It is the night, whilst working at her part-time job in a Redfern convenience store, that she sees a hooded figure, on the security screens and feels, viscerally feels, she is seeing her mother. Is it a haunting or a reality? Climatically, we find that her instincts were true, and the hooded biological mother, Andea (Sarah Jane Kelly), was, indeed in the store. Andrea has her story revealed, consequently.
Director Kim Hardwick has nurtured this play over two years with the writer, and has found a solution to cope with the many, many, short scenes with an extremely minimal set of props that facilitates the text's fluidity, to allow the complicated space and time jumps that the writer has jigsawed the text with as her dramatic means of construct. She has written a shuffle of episodes to keep the audience, I suppose, alert, rather than comfortable, by using the more familiar linear story structure. Set and Costume Design solutions are by Angus Kosti. The assistance given by a very busy lighting plot from Martin Kinnane, also attempts to create a design pattern so as to not derail the audience's patience with the short attention spans of the brief scene writing - keeping us engaged.
My purgatorical endurance really has to do with the obvious effort that Laneikka Denne imbues in the leading role that she has written for herself, as she exhibits all the observed 'ticks' of the teenage girl at a certain time in her metamorphoses - by realising the girl's agitated physical insecurities and high volumed vocal pitch as she actually remembers it - and by not employing any theatre crafting at all, so her efforts are literally physically painful to watch and prevents one from empathising at all with the character's triggered explosions, and from caring to work through the jigsaw of the narrative as it happens. The performance is a difficulty because the character is so central to almost every scene, there is no respite.
In contrast, the rest of the company of actors attempt to ground the play with nuance and steading control, working around the offers that Ms Denne hurls at them, to try to bring the audience into an empathetic fold to stay with the play's journey.
DEAD SKIN, asks us to observe the collision of many explosive triggering events of psychological importance for growth in a very compressed time reality of a young woman/girl moving into a place of maturity and hopefully, responsibility.
It was an exhausting 80 minute sit.
The writing is very promising and one hopes that Laneikka Denne keeps close to her trusted mentor, Kim Hardwick, when writing her next work, and, perhaps, elects to not play the core role in the first outing of her next work. Watching DEAD SKIN from outside may have helped the production more, than it did by sitting in the centre of the action.
Obviously, a writer's first play outing of interest and promise.