Skin Tight

Rating *****
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes

Park Theatre – 18th July 2013

She’s leaving. We don’t know where. We don’t know why. But we know that she loves him. Passionately. Violently. Dangerously.

Tom and Elizabeth are childhood sweethearts. They’ve grown up together, taken first steps together and loved each other, together. But their journey is at its end and this is their last chance to say everything they never said. Secrets. Promises. Emotions.

The story opens with the two characters on stage, unmoving. Images flicker on the back wall. They’re all picturesque, showing the happy couple in the prime of life, enjoying themselves and each other. The actors however are separate and alone.

The scene changes and they fly at each other, fists up. Bodies slam into the floor with thumps that resound around the theatre, causing gasps from a flinching audience. But this is not another tale of domestic violence. Nor is it a soppy love story with a happy ending.

Skin Tight is something quite different – yes, it’s a tale of love, and a love that has survived heartache and separation – but Skin Tight is a memory play, a dual reality that takes the characters’ memories and explores the forgotten. What really happened when Tom was fighting in the war? What did Tom’s parents actually think of Elizabeth?

Inspired by Denis Glover’s poem ‘The Magpies’, Gary Henderson’s script has an almost musical quality that perfectly offsets the action. The score (composed by Gareth Jones) also complements the piece and the choice by director Jemma Gross to use the method of under-reading in rehearsals was clearly a stroke of brilliance.

The chemistry between Tom (John Schumacher) and Elizabeth (Angela Bull) is visible in their performance: how they relate to each other, their body language and secret glances. There is real intimacy and tenderness in their actions, especially when she shaves him and when he washes her hair. There’s also trust. Even knowing both actors are trained in stage combat, the violence is shocking and at certain moments the stage is viewed through fingers shielding the audience’s eyes.

But that’s not the only thing that affects the audience. This performance gets under your skin and emotionally involves you in their story. As we gradually come to understand why Elizabeth is leaving, the emotional attachment we have for the characters brings a lump to our throat and the tears start to prick. The music only adds to the sombre mood as we’re left with an image of an old man sitting on a bench. Alone.

Haunting, powerful and absorbing, this production will leave you with goosebumps, a pounding heart and a guilty feeling that you have just witnessed something private.