Edinburgh Fringe 2010
‘Mysterious Skin’ is described as "a searing and explicit exploration of sexuality, misguided desire, and the unlikeliest of friendships". It is adapted from the book by Scott Heim. Directed by Peter Darney.
Don’t be misled by the first scene: I fooled myself into thinking that Mysterious Skin was going to be yet another slick, skin-deep trashy American sci-fi chestnut: the extra-terrestrial vamp trying to have her way with a sexually naïve earthling – the vampire trying to sink her fangs into the lilly-white neck of the virgin. In spite of the fact that the two performers could not have been giving more polished performances, it looked like being a well-trodden, indeed worn-out genre, and I felt like cutting my losses and leaving. (Quietly!). Don’t! There is indeed more to come.
As the play progressed I realised my first response was wide of the mark indeed: this is a very serious play indeed about the early sexual abuse of two boys who have reacted in adult life in different ways to their trauma. It became more and more shockingly clear that I was not witnessing the extremely well-performed dramatisation of a run-of-the-mill novelette, and that the account was no fiction, but that the analysis of male sexual abuse had been rooted deep in someone’s personal experience.
This play is graphic, harsh and shocking and the significance of the apparent sci-fi cliché in the opening scene darkens in horror as the back-story unfolds. Very simply staged and directed with almost Puritanical economy the audience is starkly confronted with an increasingly hideous reality.
To say more about the story would be to undermine the experience. The expose is even-handed about sexual-orientation but unequivocal about sexual abuse. In style Director and Actors have struck exactly the right note for this highly sensitive subject: the extremes of sensationalism at one end of the scale or mawkish sentimentalisation at the other have been skilfully avoided both in the direction and in the performances of the uniformly superb cast. The action is allowed to speak for itself. I was surprised speaking to the company afterwards that they were all very English it had all seemed so convincingly American: however on reflection the restraint and understatement, combined with raw but minimal clarity as the text demanded, exhibited the best of British Theatre style.