Shedding a Skin at Soho Theatre
“I would rather be anywhere – anywhere else in the world right now – than right here,” Myah (Amanda Wilkin) says. She’s not having a good day. After being recruited for a photo shoot designed to make her overwhelmingly white office (just three black and brown faces in the whole building) seem more diverse for PR purposes, Myah breaks down, refuses to be silent in the face of racism, and is subsequently fired from the job she fantasised about leaving on an hourly basis.
The very same day, she breaks up with her boyfriend, the “swamp man”, and finds herself staying in her childhood bedroom at her parents’ house, and they won’t let her forget the fact that she’s 30, homeless, single and unsure of what to do with her life. This leads Myah to move into a small, brown-walled single bed on the 15th floor (with a broken lift). Her roommate is Mildred, a stern old woman with a laminated list of rules. This could be the worst decision Myah’s ever made – or it could lead to a surprising, rejuvenating and life-affirming friendship.
Shedding a Skin is beautifully written. The one-woman play highlights the experience of being a mixed race woman in contemporary London in a way that gets under the skin: it is impossible to ignore the insidious injustices that she experiences. The careless remarks, hair touching, glass ceilings and chastisement for being “angry” when speaking against clear, infuriating racism are things most white people don’t see in their day-to-day lives. The play foregrounds how much goes unnoticed, and how much is still wrong with society in a way that encourages white viewers to improve their awareness and empathy.
The emotional intelligence here is stunning; the characters three-dimensional and, even though one only ever sees Myah, it is so easy to imagine the others through the careful descriptions and dialogue. Shedding a Skin explores the need for human beings to be seen and heard, how human connection can be found in unlikely places, and how getting to know and learning from elders can help people fit into their own skin. It is a play about laughter, joy, pain, loneliness, loss and injustice – in short, it is a play about life.
At the beginning, Wilkin performs in a slit between two wide black curtains. As the narrative progresses, she begins to tear away the barriers until what is left is an open, illuminated stage to represent how the character has been able to open up and let people see her vulnerability. Similarly, when the audience first meets Myah she is dressed in plain, baggy clothes, as if she is trying not to be noticed, but by the end she wears orange and red, reflecting her new ability to take up space and be seen (“I spent so much time trying to take up as little space as possible that I broke”). Throughout, viewers are given snapshots of other people’s lives all over the world, and, as the voiceover tells the everyday human stories, one sees constellations projected onto the walls of the stage, giving a sense of universality and connectedness in a vast universe.
Shedding a Skin is an incredibly intelligent, subtly brilliant play that gives the audience an unforgettable insight into a range of multi-faceted, intriguing and relatable characters that is hard to forget. It is a play that sticks with the viewer, with lines that play on the mind for days after. This is a significant achievement that should be seen by everyone.
Photos: Helen Murray
Shedding a Skin is at Soho Theatre from 17th June until 17th July 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.