Sheffield Theatres continue their laudable practice of presenting the regional premieres of the hottest new plays, only seen before in the capital, with Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike. Sheffield audiences were introduced to Skinner’s work last autumn, when the Studio staged her entertaining but unremarkable The Sound of Heavy Rain. The Village Bike is an altogether different beast, whose delicate weaving of innuendo-fuelled comedy and uncomfortable truth explains why Skinner is fast establishing herself as one of Britain’s greatest female playwrights. Her gender is mentioned here not because Skinner’s play doesn’t stand up to the work of her male contemporaries, which it surely does, but because female experience and the need to acknowledge it give this piece its identity and urgency.
Becky (played with truthful intensity by Amy Cudden) is struggling with the fears, anxieties and hormonal changes of her first pregnancy. Her well-meaning but woefully oblivious husband Christopher Harper is too busy reading about, or telling her, what she must be going through to listen to her real needs. The consequent failure in communication leads them on a compelling journey from high farce to near tragedy. The play is brave and unflinching in its examination of female sexuality and all its accompanying moral and ethical conundrums. The moments of extreme discomfort, embarrassment even, which this generates highlight the need for a dialogue about these taboos.
The play is intimately staged, with Fabrice Serafino’s traverse design drawing the audience in and providing a pleasingly authentic back-drop to the action. Jonathan Humphreys’s direction is tight and unobtrusive, allowing each member of his skillful cast to get to the bottom of Skinner’s complex and engaging characters. A sterling production of an important play.