Friday, 19 July 2019

Review: skank (Clementine Bogg-Hargroves, GM Fringe)

Thursday 18th July 2019
TriBeCa, Manchester

The Greater Manchester Fringe continues throughout July. I’m reviewing a selection of shows for this blog, and for North Manchester FM. The next show I saw was skank by Clementine Bogg-Hargroves, at TriBeCa in Manchester on Thursday 18th July. You can hear the radio version of this review on Saturday’s Hannah’s Bookshelf, but here’s the blog version…

skank is a one-woman show, written and performed by Bogg-Hargroves and directed by Zoey Barnes. It’s the story of Kate, a twenty-something office temp who has dreams of being a writer… and nightmares about her internal organs killing her. In many ways, this is a show about millennial angst and anxieties (which, admittedly, is something this Gen-Xer is sometimes a bit wary of) – but it’s also so much more than that. It’s an original and off-beat storytelling, with some really compelling and clever characterization.

The show begins with Kate – off-stage – arguing with someone about recycling. All she wants is to find the right bin to dispose of a baked bean tin, but sadly it’s not to be found. So, when Kate makes her entrance onto the stage, she has to bring the bean tin with her. This seemingly trivial and pointless interaction is our introduction to the character we’re about to spend just over an hour with, and it’s an effective one in its deceptive mundanity.

Kate works as a temp in an office. The type of office isn’t specified, because it really isn’t important. skank hits the right buttons to set a particular and familiar scene – it’s a boring job, and Kate believes it’s not her ‘real job’. She’s also pretty scathing of the people she works with – from the office ‘characters’ to her fellow temps.

Much of the first half of the show takes place at the office, with Kate interacting with various other characters, like Linda (who’s a bit full-on) and Sexy Gary (who is not). These conversations are conjured by Bogg-Hargroves through the use of recorded audio. On stage, she sits at a desk and interacts or responds to the voices that are playing (also performed by Bogg-Hargroves).

And it is very funny. While this might not be the most original setting for comedy, it’s a tried and tested one. Kate’s interactions with her fellow workers – including her facial expressions as their voice play – include some well-crafted jokes and a confident comic timing.

However, what I really enjoyed was the way skank very subtly set us up for something else. One of my favourite moments, early in the play, came after the first interaction with Linda. Linda just wants to be Kate’s friend and imagines herself as a bit of a joker. She bombards Kate with a serious of inane conversational gambits, before laughing (in a truly irritating way) and ending with a comment on how mad she is. Kate is superior in her mockery and annoyance at Linda… but then Sexy Gary arrives, and we see a mirroring interaction, in which Kate is inane and clumsy in her attempts to impress him with her ‘zany’ personality. This bit was neatly and cleverly done – an adept example of how to undermine your character while still getting the audience to love them.

skank is laugh-out-loud funny, and Bogg-Hargroves reveals a talent for both comedy writing and performance. But the show is not just funny. There is something going on under the surface with Kate – beyond her frustrations with her job and her inability to focus on her ambitions. Hints come in interactions with her brother, with whom she shares a house, that Kate finds life a bit more challenging than she’s so far let on.

Moving from silly and comical to serious is a difficult task for any show, particularly a one-act piece with a single set. skank does a great job at handling this tonal shift. In fact, the shift happens so smoothly you don’t notice it at first. The jokes keep coming, but the edge gets harder and harder. This culminates in two really powerful sequences (and I really don’t want to give any spoilers about them) in the second half of the play, which were both moving and painful to watch.

That the audience is carried along and invested in Kate’s story is testament to Bogg-Hargroves’s engaging and sympathetic performance style. Kate emerges as a believable and relatable character, for all her daft jokes and awkward missteps. By the end of the show, I was genuinely surprised how much I cared about Kate – and how much I cared about that pesky bean tin.

skank is a funny show infused with both honesty and a (sometimes filthy) confessional style. It’s also a showcase of the talents of a skilful writer and performer. Credit should also be given to Zoey Barnes’s direction, as the show makes clever use of its single – and deceptively simple – set. A sequence about a works night out (and again – no spoilers!) is particularly well-crafted – making very good use of lighting and sound design – and really takes the show to the next level.

Of the show’s I’ve seen so far at this year’s festival, the one that bears the closest comparison with skank is Gobby, Jodie Irvine’s one-woman show about a socially awkward young woman and her desperation to be heard. This comparison isn’t a criticism, though. Though there are some superficial similarities to the plays’ set-ups, Irvine and Bogg-Hargroves’s characters are different, and their performance styles are different. However, it really is great to see two such compelling and funny solo shows from emerging women writers. Hopefully, we’ll see lots more from both of them!

Overall, skank is an impressive solo show from Bogg-Hargroves. Witty and well-observed, it’s an engaging character study with some striking and well-constructed set pieces. I really enjoyed this show, and left TriBeCa with the feeling that I’d miss Kate a little bit now that the show’s over.

skank is on at TriBeCa in Manchester on the 18th-21st July, as part of this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe. For the full programme of events at this year’s Fringe, visit the festival website.

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