Skye

Mon 20th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Rivkah Brown

at 22:01 on 23rd Aug 2012

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‘Skye’, a new writing by Director of Drama Deborah Gibbs and performed by her students from North London Collegiate School, takes on the weighty topics of parenthood, responsibility and the stigma of being a teenage mother in a production which is intricate, though underwhelming.

The play opens in a courtroom with Annie Jacobs’ cross-examination by barrister Miranda Shand on suspicion of serious neglect of her daughter, Skye. Jennifer Walser stands out as a wild-eyed, timorous Annie, though this leaves Kate Howlett’s courtroom ferocity feeling gratuitous and overdone. Equally hammy are Shand’s interactions with daughter Emily (played by Julia Kass). Rebellious teenager vs. up-tight mother is a scenario we have seen played out a thousand times, and I’m not sure this round brings anything new to it.

Contrastingly, the Jacobs’ Family dynamic was highly sensitive and impressive. I was particularly taken aback by Annie’s mother Denise, played by an utterly committed Shreya Patel, whose speech on the difficulties of fairness in motherhood and the often heartbreaking independence of Annie rang so very true. Annie’s relationship with her infertile sister Helen added another layer of complexity, her jealousy of her younger and accidentally pregnant sister an unusual angle from which to come at the situation.

Though impressive for a new writing, Deborah Gibbs’ script doesn’t shine: it feels oddly appropriate when Denise tells her daughter defiantly, ‘You’ll be accusing me of speaking in clichés next’. A particularly bad instance of this is Annie’s sister Helen suggesting that Annie liking the name Skye because her head is in the clouds.

The staging is imaginative with elements of physical theatre incorporated to evoke the scorn Annie feels from those around her. It seems particularly appropriate to have an all-female cast since it stresses the fact that the judgement women receive, particularly as irresponsible mothers, is almost always from other women. However, there is a fundamental problem with the plot: the criminal act upon which the play hinges, leaving a three-year-old unattended in a car, does not seem heinous enough to warrant such a high-profile court case, nor earthshaking enough to bring Annie’s life crumbling to the ground.

It is rare to see such a talented group of secondary school pupils at the Fringe, yet I feel their talent is still nascent. I have a feeling ‘Skye’ is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Ella Griffiths

at 03:11 on 24th Aug 2012

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‘Skye’ is a complex, brave and dynamic new play that engages a talented young cast in conveying the struggles of a teenage mother. Melding dance and drama, Deborah Gibbs has created a vivid but flawed series of intertwining stories surrounding the trial of young mother Annie for neglect after leaving her child, Skye, alone in the car.

The Director of Drama at North London Collegiate School has expertly choreographed a mixture of mass ensembles and individual solos that fluidly melt together around the dialogues with energy and precision. Creating haunting backdrops with the entire cast holding woollen dolls was an effective choice, while the scenes symbolising the gap between Annie and the ominous group are poignant, especially in the frenzied road-crossing sequence. However, a tendency to rely upon stilted and hackneyed dialogue between the individually very strong characters detracts from the sparkling physicality of the dance sequences. Indeed, the whole play suffers from the aura of a GCSE-style drama production in which ‘important themes’ are boldly and self-consciously signposted; these topical questions of morality, maternity and justice tend to be excessively dramatized, while many roles are exaggerated and almost caricatured. Despite the high calibre actresses, the roles of Annie’s friends played by Tanvi Punatar and Holly Willis verged on being one-dimensional, while Julia Kass as a conflicted teenager worked well in vivifying her slightly predictable, archetypal role. However, there were some very promising performances from Jennifer Walser as a vulnerable yet determined Annie, conveying both her sense of panicked isolation and love for her daughter in the trial scenes that evoke our sympathy for her plight. Kate Howlett the prosecuting lawyer is an eloquent and impassioned actress despite being a tad over-aggressive, offering the first of a line of luminous and engaging monologues.

While these intimate examinations of motherhood are an impressively executed fusion of dance and theatre by actresses brimming with potential, the lethargy of the narrative reduces our sense of engagement with the cast and leaves our attention wandering. Nonetheless, this is a bold example of fresh new writing that embraces the confusion of motherhood with genuine understanding.

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