This Skin of Mine at Little LTF ***
Little LTF – the younger sibling of the main Liverpool Theatre Festival – aims to showcase bright new writing and its inaugural programme is proving an eclectic mix of themes and styles.
Writer and director Kai Jolley’s two-hander This Skin of Mine, billed as ‘an outrageously dark comedy’, sees a pair of siblings thrashing out their differences to find some common ground against the backdrop of a looming family bereavement.
And with subjects as weighty as loss, grief, domestic abuse, race and racism and transgender equality thrown into the mix, it’s a busy and challenging 60 minutes of theatre.
Daughter Barry (Janelle Thompson) is waiting for her estranged big brother Sam – who fell off the family radar 16 months before - to join her in the family home in time to say their goodbyes to their mum who is in the final hours of her life.
But in the event, it’s not Sam who walks through the door but a willowy stranger called Sarah (Eden Jodie) – Barry’s big brother no more, but big sister.
Barry yo-yos between confusion and acceptance as the siblings attempt to reconnect, both bonding and arguing over shared memories and different experiences.
Jolley’s script is eloquent and has plenty of energy, and Thompson generates an early rapport with the audience as she breaks down the fourth wall with an easy naturalness to share some recognisable gallows humour in a stressful situation.
But as events take a sudden, tragic turn, the characters’ seeming lack of empathy and absence of any visible grief – they seem more wrapped up in their own feelings and lives than concern for their mother’s – feels a bit jarring.
It may, perhaps, work better to set their scenes of awkward reconciliation in the wake of her demise (at the funeral for example) rather than at the very point of it, unseen and essentially alone, somewhere off stage.
And while Jodie’s Sarah has some forceful points to make about happiness, acceptance, and gender identity, they’re delivered in a speech which ends up feeling a little bit stagey.
Top: Eden Jodie as Sarah and Janelle Thompson as Barry. Photo by David Munn