SKIN Tight, written by Gary Henderson and based on Dennis Glover’s kiwi poem The Magpies, is 50 minutes of intoxicating theatre that will grip you from start to finish.
It’s raw and emotional. For some, handkerchiefs will be required. It’s a tear jerker, for sure. But it’s also challenging and in the process stimulating.
Set in the 1950s on the rural plains of New Zealand’s South Island, it tells the story of Tom (Adam Slynn) and Elizabeth, (Louise Hoare) a couple hopelessly in love. They live on a farm and times are hard.
We then learn of their back life. Their courtship and the time they first made love. ‘Did you enjoy it’, asks Elizabeth? ‘No I didn’t’ replies Tom. Raw honesty.
We hear about Tom going off to war (losing ‘indestructible’ mates in the process with some coming back maimed) and the persistent nightmares upon his return. And much more besides along the way – frolicking in the hay, Tom tickling Elizabeth’s bottom.
There are meaningless infidelities involving sheep shearers – and prostitutes in Cairo – and more importantly the birth of a child (Kittie) who now lives in London. Baby and child’s clothes hang on the washing line – at one moment Elizabeth tenderly rocks a pair of baby boots in her arms. Memories of Kittie and maybe a hint that not all is well relationship-wise between mother and grown up daughter.
We also find out a little about their individual idiosyncrasies – the way they eat apples, Elizabeth’s wish to always taste Tom’s ice cream, Tom’s propensity to dribble on the toilet seat, pick his nose and let off a bit of wind in bed. It’s amusing, but the long sustained love between them is always obvious – you see and feel it. It gets under your skin.
It’s both sensual and balletic – their physical interactions a reflection of their ups and downs. One moment fighting like lions. The next, joined at the hip. A mating ritual. It’s beautifully and expertly acted – they literally fling themselves at each other like erotic mud wrestlers.
It takes a while to realise what we are actually watching (lovers of Glover’s poem will know). But as it hits you like the tepid water Tom and Elizabeth joyously throw at each other from a tin bath, emotion starts to kick in. It’s hard not to be caught up in what we are viewing.
Skin Tight represents Off-West End theatre at its best. The set is minimalist with trees chalked on the wall and their roots stretching across the floor. And despite the tightness of the theatre – or maybe because of it – Slynn and Hoare perform their physical interactions as if they are Adam Peaty and Katya Jones on Strictly (minus the shoes). Wonderfully choreographed.
Expertly directed by Max Kirk, this play – a Southern Magpie production – first showed at The Hope Theatre (with Hoare playing Elizabeth) in 2017. It received acclaim then – and this production deserves the same accolades. Hoare is simply sensational. She immerses body and soul in the role – quite literally at the end when Tom sensitively places her in the bath tub.
‘The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations
Couldn’t give it away
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.’
Skin Tight runs until November 6 (Tuesday through to Saturday. Highbury and Islington is your nearest tube. Don’t miss it.
Title image by Greg Veit