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Are There More of You?
Published on Friday, 14 May 2010

I started this show rather harried.  The venue is listed as being on Gardner Street, but the entrance is actually on the considerably less salubrious Regent Street.  By the time I was taking my seat in the Iambic Arts Theatre's little black box of a venue, I was grateful to have made it; glad that, after a while wandering bewildered looking for a sign for venue 99, I hadn't just given up.

And not giving up is something of a theme to Alison Skilbeck's one-woman show.  Skilbeck plays four different women during the performance, each described as being on the verge of a 'nervous breakthrough'.  So, each of them meets a challenging life situation – through being let down by someone else – and each finds a solution, ranging from simply living well and happily after desertion to full-on black magic.

Each story is funny, touching and sweetly moving. But this show is not really about these stories so much as it is about Skilbeck herself, and her amazing ability to transform from one woman to another.  A quick blackout, a change of hair and (crucially) shoes and a diplomat's wife is an Italian café owner.  It's genuinely remarkable: once a new character takes centre stage it becomes impossible to imagine how Skilbeck ever portrayed the previous one.  The show is such a display of acting skill that it is almost like watching a masterclass; the black-box staging adds to the feel that we are watching a demonstration of a remarkable talents.

But, there lies this show's weak point.  Skilbeck vanishes so completely into her portrayals that there's almost nothing to see except the characters themselves.  And their stories, each with its redemption arc, just aren't that intriguing.

The most artful, engaging part of each monologue is the point where the stories intercept; the four women in the show live close to each other in South London and occasionally one of them will encounter one of the others.  That gives us, the audience, the chance to pat ourselves on the back as we recognise a character we met in an earlier tale.  But where a more thoughtful narrative might have revealed more about the previous characters when viewed through eyes of another, here we learn nothing new, simply having the connections between the characters confirmed.  That's disappointing, and the show is let down by a flimsy narrative that ends up feeling a bit 'so what?' as the last character finishes her tale.

Skilbeck is amazingly talented, and it is worth seeing this show just for the demonstration of her transformative powers – even her body looks different as she morphs from one person into another.  But I ended up thinking how much I'd like to see her take on a more challenging, gripping story, rather than simple character studies.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.