Review: Bruises @ The Tabard Theatre ****

On Thursday, my friend and me were lucky enough to go watch Woven Voices’ Bruises at The Tabard Theatre, a new play written by Nadia Cavelle.

The story follows two friends: Jackie and Banana (yes, that’s her name). Banana is somewhat apathetic towards her prospects, after suffering a career-ending injury as a young gymnast. She finds herself falling in and out of jobs and also relationships, in particular one with Justin Case (yes, that’s his name). After years of hardship, Jackie on the other hand has big dreams: she longs for financial security, a future and to better herself. And the person who can offer all of this is Mona, a high class pimp who employs Jackie as a sex-worker. Following the lives of these two very different characters, the play explores issues surrounding sexuality and often presents us with two very different opinions. Such questions raised include control of the female body, the nature of sex work, and what sex means to different people, be it warmth, oxygen, or a secret garden.

Kirsty Rider as Banana, and Eva-Jane Willis as Jackie. Credit to Garry Lake.
Kirsty Rider as Banana, and Eva-Jane Willis as Jackie. Credit to Garry Lake.

The staging is pretty minimalist: the only notable pieces of set are a bed sheet and fridges, the metaphorical significance of which becomes apparent later on. Monologues frame the play and in a surprising move, they’re not performed by one of the two main characters. At key points in the play, the lights come down and James Barnes’ Damien provides an alternative voice, opinion to those on stage.

Another strength of the play is a strong script: the scenes between Banana and Justin towards the end of the first half are so intense, the language so raw. Other parts of the script seem a tad muddled: trying to fit in too many jokes and sometimes in a somewhat inappropriate context or setting. But that’s some of what Cavelle is trying to achieve: uncomfortable truths. I seem to be having problems with endings recently, and this one is no different. The ending does feel a bit too convenient, too neatly tied. That being said, it’s nice to see a play end on a happy note for some characters. There are some great lines which will stay with you, and one of my favourites is the brutally honest exchange between Banana and Jackie concerning their prospects:

Jackie: …you’re just vegetating!

Banana: I’m not a vegetable. I’m a fruit!

Funny lines, but laced a sombre truth.

Michael Edwards as Justin, and Kirsty Rider as Banana. Credit to Garry Lake.
Michael Edwards as Justin, and Kirsty Rider as Banana. Credit to Garry Lake.

The acting is stellar in this production. Kirsty Rider’s Banana gets most of the funny lines in the show, and makes the character completely likable and relatable to a 20 something generation. My favourite scene with her though is when she confronts Justin in the latter half of the show: the emotion is so raw and Rider perfectly times the reveal, playing it at just the right pitch and speed mid speech. Eva-Jane Willis’ Jackie gets the more dramatic moments in the play, and the sheer emotional honesty she projects is so moving. Her argument with Banana about her choice of sex work is a show defining moment, and is utterly convincing. The last scene where she sits on stage is so powerful: saying nothing but revealing everything with mere movement.

Eva-Jane Willis as Jackie, Credit to Garry Lake.
Eva-Jane Willis as Jackie, Credit to Garry Lake.

Michael Edwards’ Justin is a tad annoying, just as he should be! Edwards makes him a sympathetic and compelling character though, through his commanding, energetic portrayal. Lily Knight’s Mona is an interesting side-character who makes some short but sweet appearances: her sincerity when Banana asks for her help is wholly believable. Her colleague Jean-Baptiste played by Toby Rolt only appears for one scene, but he makes for a commanding and charismatic professor. Barnes’ character only appears in scenes a handful of times. But what an impression he makes! The monologues are intense, but he really connects with the audience. He does remain on stage for most of the play, watching the drama: a voyeur.

James Barnes as Damien. Credit to Garry Lake.

Verdict: a fresh, new piece of writing about a lesser talked about aspect of society, but one which deserves much more discussion. And what better voice than this with an impressive script and cast.

Bruises is playing until the 29th of August 2015 at The Tabard Theatre. For tickets, see The Tabard Theatre’s website.

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