Sometimes, if you are lucky, you will watch a play, or show, or performance that is utterly perfect. It has the perfect amount of humour and pathos, the perfect amount of relatability mixed with other perspectives, the perfect amount of advice and hope. Shedding a Skin at Soho Theatre is one such play. Written and performed by Amanda Wilkin and directed by Elayce Ismail, this production will have you crying one minute and belly laughing the next.
We follow Myah, newly unemployed, single, and without a place to call her own, the trifecta of societal doom for any young woman. Moving back in with her parents is out of the question, they keep asking her why she quit her job (it’s a long story). She also can’t go back to her privilege ridden ex (or his tiny boat where they were living), so she climbs up fifteen flights of stairs to the cheap single room, rented by an elderly Jamaican women named Mildred. Thus begins an intergenerational and healing friendship between two black women.
Shedding a Skin is a one woman show which Amanda Wilkin performs with deft and expressive ease. Wilkin seamlessly switches from self-conscious Myah, to the stately but somewhat judgy Mildred, to confident Kemi and a plethora of other side characters. There is something particularly vivid and personal about Wilkin’s acting and the character of Myah is incredibly relatable in her hands. One is reminded a little of the TV show Miranda, but Wilkin instills so much more depth into Myah that the comparison seems trite. The audience is left feeling like they have been listening to a close friend tell them about their life and that feeling of connection is exactly the message that Wilkin aims to impart with this play.
It’s not just the writing and acting that’s perfect but also the use of staging and lighting that is superb. The set is minimalist and when the play begins there is only a tiny doorway in which Myah stands. However as the plot progresses the stage begins to open up in tandem with Myah opening up to the audience. Whilst still minimal the ambience of the set also changes, becoming warmer and more comforting. It’s all a metaphor and a good one at that. In addition to the immediate plot we are also transported away from Myah’s story and through projection and lighting we are shown snippets of other black and brown people’s lives. These scenes feel dreamy but at the same time significantly palpable.
This play is, first and foremost, about the experiences of black, brown, and immigrant peoples. However there is something universally human in the way that Wilkin’s portrays her characters and her message that connection is a necessary “act of rebellion” is something that we would do well to remember. In a society where hyper individualism is not only encouraged but expected it is not unusual, as a younger generation, to feel adrift in the world. To build connection and community is a radical act against dominant and oppressive ideologies. Shedding a Skin is a must see and there is no wonder it got a resounding standing ovation.
Shedding a Skin is at Soho Theatre until 26th March 2022.