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Review: Shedding a Skin (Soho Theatre)

Amanda Wilkin's new play won the 2020 Verity Bargate Award

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Shedding a Skin
© Helen Murray

Read a synopsis of Shedding a Skin and the plot seems simple enough. Myah (Amanda Wilkin) is a 30-something, recently unemployed, single and broke. Having moved out of boat lodgings once shared with her "swamp man" ex, she finds her life is transformed living with an elderly woman named Mildred. If this sounds like the kind of rough outline you might imagine forming the basis of a corny rom-com, then rest assured – this play is a million miles away from ordinary.

Written and acted by Wilkin, Shedding a Skin must be one of the most joyous pieces of writing that has ever graced this stage in Soho. There is always a slight degree of expectation when the likes of Lolita Chakrabarti, Russell T Davies and Phoebe Waller-Bridge among others anoint you out of nearly 1,500 entries to win a national writing award, but this play exceeds that and then some.

By herself in just over an hour, Myah weaves a story about an intergenerational friendship that not only sets her own life back on track, but explores what life should be about in the first place. Love, loneliness, struggle, compassion, all these things that make up who we are and the society we live in are effortlessly conveyed.

None of these themes ever feel like a box to be ticked. No subject ever feels contrived or forced in Wilkin's hands. This is one young black woman's experience in modern London and the richness of her vision is something to behold.

Whilst it is intimidating to consider that Wilkin not only wrote this but is also its sole actor, in a way it is not really surprising at all. Aside from the poignancy of the words themselves, her performance on stage is of someone intimately familiar with the text. She is acutely aware of every nuance the language affords her – each move and intonation is done with purpose, executed perfectly for a precise effect.

Rosanna Vize's smart and understated set dovetails with the story beautifully. As Myah slowly starts to heal and open up again, layer upon layer of fabric is peeled down in front of the audience. A stage which began life four feet deep feels cavernous by the close, such is the affirmation that Mildred's support and friendship gives to Myah.

Belly laughs are unavoidable, tears might be also. Shedding a Skin is a rumination on kindness and healing but above all a celebration of life itself. This night belongs to Wilkin – what an utterly brilliant performance.

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