Giverny Masso, Exposé Arts
Skin Deep is so highly anticipated that I found myself waiting for the staff to grab me an extra chair in the sold out Bike Shed. This can only be a good sign for the exciting, new Exeter-based theatre company, Substance & Shadow.
As the characters began circling into position to music, holding their chairs, I found myself feeling slightly dubious. Whilst Jem, played by Midge Mullin, and Pearl (Rose Mullin) swayed on an imaginary train, I wondered what the story surrounding Jem’s return to Exeter could be, and, most importantly, whether the actors could convince me to believe it on the sparse stage.
Five minutes in I was convinced, and from then onwards there was not a moment of the play which didn’t grip me. The quality of the acting was extremely high and consistent throughout, apart from one minor stumble on lines towards the end. The energy of the actors, along with their use of mime and third person narration, transformed the stage into numerous settings. I particularly enjoyed Nathan Simpson, as Alex, creating an entire 80’s dance floor full of people through his hilarious renditions of the other dancers.
What impresses me most is the play itself, written by Rose and Midge. The plot, which builds up to some shocking twists, is brilliantly intertwined with the changes occurring within the characters, characters who are so real due to their many complexities. The story is told interestingly; the characters themselves narrating moments of past and present action by switching to descriptive third person.Skin Deep really demonstrates the power of language to paint a space in our imaginations.
Substance & Shadow Theatre Company is very aptly named, as Skin Deep is full of both “substance” and “shadow” in so many senses. The play delves into the hugely substantial matters of sexuality, race and identity whilst also exploring the shadows on the surface; fashion, music and appearance. Comedic moments, mostly at the expense of Biro (Mike Gilpin), merge subtly with much darker instances. The darkest image for me was Jem’s casual rolling up of his sleeve to reveal a swastika tattoo during a game of pool at the Black Horse.
Skin Deep goes further than merely revealing the sickening nature of prejudice, it delves beneath the imprint on the skin to explore how prejudice manifests and, in Pearl’s case, how prejudice is escaped. Skin Deep really holds true to the spirit of Exeter Ignite, fully embodying the festival’s motto that “any space can be a theatre, anyone can tell a story”. Substance & Shadow’s experimental approach to storytelling really pays off, the end result being a gripping evening which is both entertaining and thought provoking.