Edinburgh Fringe 2009
When you were twelve and a half you believed in happily-ever-after. When F, a drug-addled stripper, comes across a story written by her younger, more hopeful self, it serves to send her memory into a series of flashbacks of all the defining mornings-after of her life that led her to where she is now – newly single after a night with not one but two wrong men, and on a coke come-down. Happy New Year’s Day, F! ‘Fucked’ is a sharply observed, engaging one woman show that explores the sexual and emotional landscape of a broke and lonely 25 year old girl-woman – to hilarious effect.
The provocatively titled ‘Fucked’ is a one woman show that attempts to chronicle one girl’s journey from adolescence to womanhood. The re-discovery of a love story written by herself at ‘twelve and a half years old’ sends our coked-up and down-and-out narrator into a spiralling series of flashbacks, reliving the succession of bad – and worse – relationships that have led her to the present day, as she wakes up once again having spent the night with the wrong man. Or make that men.
So far, so what? This year’s fringe is full of women bringing their sad and sorry love lives to the theatre. In fact, I’m thinking of dubbing it a new genre – the ‘lie-down comedy’. Thankfully, Penelope Skinner’s script is sharper than most: “Last night’s sex was – well – it was a bit like a kebab? Doner, not shish. This morning, I am coated in the greasy film of regret.” Becci Gemmell plays F with an engaging mix of world-weary wit and vulnerability, and the device of projecting the time onto the plain backdrop is a nice way of dealing with the temporal difficulties of staging flashbacks. This trick is exploited to further effect when the words ‘WHORE’, ‘VIRGIN’, ‘VICTIM’ are projected onto the backdrop just as our preconceptions are projected onto women like F. Well, that’s the charitable interpretation. Another is that it was one of several cheap devices that didn’t do the incredibly acute observations and genuine pathos justice, along with the rather saccharine ending and downright dismal beginning.
Making F a stripper was a stroke of sheer banality, not to mention laziness, and the fairy-tale quest motif by which fallen lady finds her feminist happily-ever-after (complete with unshaven armpits) has been done – and done better – too many times before.
That this is Skinner’s full length professional debut goes some way to explaining why this show had the taste and texture of a top notch filling sandwiched between two soggy slices of cheap white bread. Had she had the courage to make F an office worker or nurse, say, ‘Fucked’ could have been groundbreaking, touching the raw nerves of modern sexual politics.
Because when Skinner knows what she’s talking about she gets it so right, so uncomfortably, physically squirm-in-your-seat spot-on, that we would all like to pretend that it’s not us. It’s too close to home. But making F a stripper neatly allows the audience to laugh in all the right places – after all, F isn’t a girl like them, oh no. She’s a stripper. And even worse, she’s a tired stereotype of what middle England thinks a stripper should be.
With a little more bravery and assurance in its open and close this show would have undoubtedly been a four star. As it stands, it is a solid, well-staged piece of theatre with some outstanding moments which earn it a very solid three stars. Skinner is a talent to watch out for, but her debut play left me feeling teasingly frotted – not Fucked.