Winner of the 2020 Verity Bargate Award, in its return to Soho Theatre following its sell-out run in May 2021…
Amanda Wilkin’s Shedding a Skin follows Myah, a young woman, as she tries to make sense of the world and her place within it.
At the beginning of the play, we see that Myah has lost her way: she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and feels disconnected from the people around her. But, a new start comes when she walks out of her job, breaks up with her boyfriend and moves in with a mature Jamaican woman named Mildred. Over the course of the play, Mildred and Myah become close friends and, ultimately, Mildred teaches Myah the importance of connection: the importance of being connected with the people in your local community so that the “homeless man by the ATM” actually has a name, the human need for connection and “connection as an act of rebellion”.
While I was definitely moved by the overall message of the play, and felt the emphasis on connection was particularly pertinent to the theatrical experience, I did feel that there were some weaknesses in the writing. The strength of Wilkin’s writing is that it feels truthful – in the sense that it feels like she is talking about things she has experienced, but also in the sense that it does not feel like she is trying to imitate anybody else’s writing style. Instead, she writes in a voice that is entirely and uniquely her own.
At times, however, Wilkin’s writing felt vague and slightly disconnected in structure. Throughout the play, Wilkin intersperses stories of “moments” in strangers’ lives that occur simultaneously to moments in Myah’s life. Each of these short anecdotes are related to the overall theme of the importance of human connectivity, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to take from them. I guess the key problem was that, over the course of the play, I wasn’t convinced that this was the key lesson that Myah had learned. Instead, the story arc of the play suggested that Myah had learned to stand up for herself – but, if this was the case, had Myah really learned anything given that this is also where the play starts?
On top of this, the generational divide between Myah and Mildred sometimes felt reductive. Mildred was written to represent the first generation of Black Britons – those that had to fight for basic recognition of equality, and who recognised the importance of community. Meanwhile, Myah was written to represent the second/ third generation of Black Britons – those who have lost track of what to fight for and aren’t connected to the community anymore. Of course, this is an oversimplified and stereotypical representation of generational difference, but it seemed to be a binary that Shedding a Skin was happy to reinforce, and I’m not really sure why. Indeed, I’m not entirely convinced that the end of the play satisfactorily challenged these stereotypes of generational difference.
Any weaknesses in the writing are, however, greatly outweighed by the strength of Wilkin’s performance. Wilkin definitely knows how to make her words sing! From physical humour, such as exaggeratedly bending her body “to appear less imposing”, to the excellent comic timing with which she delivers one-liners, such as sharing that she’s wearing a swimming costume because she’s run out of clean underwear, Wilkin brilliantly draws the audience into her world, leaving them hanging on her every word with all the skill of a stand-up comic.
Wilkin’s performance is complimented by excellent direction by Elayce Ismail and effective set design by Rosanna Vize. All three work together to effectively highlight the themes of the play – indeed the set itself “sheds a skin” simultaneous to Myah finding her place within the world – and to make Wilkin’s one-woman play a dynamic visual treat.
While I didn’t feel probed by Shedding a Skin, I did definitely come away from the play with a warm feeling in my heart, and a renewed belief in the importance of human connection. Wilkin’s voice is definitely unique, and she is an extremely engaging performer – I look forward to seeing her future projects.
Shedding a Skin plays at Soho Theatre until Saturday 26th March. Book tickets and find out more here.