Review: Blue Tights, Red Knickers and an 'S' on Her Vest
Image: Thematic Theatre
Laura Shoebottom (Jenna)
Liam Ashmead (David voice-over)
Georgia Richardson (Clare voice-over)
Natasha Calland (Trish voice-over)
Connor Maxwell (Tom voice-over)
Ela Yalçin (Mum voice-over)
Jenna is being bullied at work, and struggling to cope with her anxiety.
The one person who can make her feel better is on the other side of the world and not speaking to her.
One day an incident at work leads to Jenna having a breakdown in the office, and one of her colleagues is attacked.
About 10 minutes into this 70 minute monologue, written and performed by Laura Shoebottom, I was pretty sure that it was about a Yorkshire-born woman.
It was only later, though, that the script confirmed my suspicions when the county was actually named.
That alone is a considerable testament to the quality of Laura Shoebottom's writing - to be able to suggest the location of a character's background merely from the kind of things she says is a unique quality that, on its own, deserves considerable praise.
Arriving at the theatre, I wondered if the show was actually going to go ahead since the large downstairs pub was already packed to the rafters with ebullient and noisy England supporters.
Not the kind of atmos that enables actors to focus on their work, one might think.
But the assembly in the pub was not going to stop the show in the theatre above and a plucky, courageous Laura Shoebottom was unhesitatingly up for the job ... and proved more than up to the mark too.
Dulled a little by the lack of England goals, the gasps and general hubbub from the heaving masses below were certainly audible in the theatre, and Ms Shoebottom also had to contend at one point with two men speaking loudly just the other side of the theatre door.
Undaunted, Ms Shoebottom admirably proceeded with no hesitation and without seeming in the slightest bit perturbed or fazed by the extraneous noisy competition.
Her monologue is one of those simple but important plays that deserve wider exposure and appreciation.
The play is not about the exceptional, but the everyday ordinary, describing events that affect large swathes of people in developed economies including the UK.
It's a play about coping with the enormous stress created by pressured employment.
Jenna is 5 years into a job as a prosecuting lawyer.
She's massively overworked, having to take home copious quantities of case work each evening to slave over.
She lacks effective support and is the target of the bullying antics of a sexist male colleague.
She hates office parties and pub outings where her colleagues deliberately get her drunk, and she hates team-building jaunts to the West Country where she's required to sleep in a tent.
As a result of pressures at work, she's having therapy sessions to counter her anxiety - already, she's had over 70 of them and her therapist is worried she's dependent on them.
Ms Shoebottom does not speak with a strong Yorkshire accent, though there are hints of it at times.
It's not her accent that betrays her character's birthplace - it's the way she describes things, the way she uses language.
Even as a native Yorkshireman, it's still hard for me to define precisely what sets Yorkshire people apart and makes it possible to identify them just from the things they say.
However, they are masters of understatement and they have a dry, droll sense of humour that is combined with a blunt, stoical and plain-speaking approach to life.
All those qualities emerge from Laura Shoebottom's well-written and worthily relevant play.
Voice-over from various characters punctuate Liam Ashmead's considered and effective production, providing varietal support to Ms Shoebottom's excellently delivered, sympathetic and absorbing performance.
However, the token quantity of paperwork she brings home fails to substantiate her overwhelming workload, and her return from an office pub outing seemed to deliberately avoid describing in detail her inebriated condition, relying on simulated vomiting alone to create the effect.
That seemed a little odd, because Ms Shoebottom is undoubtedly a highly-skilled actor who elsewhere clearly demonstrates that she is capable of describing a huge range of emotions as well as effortlessly holding an audience's attention.
Moreover, her play is an important vehicle that highlights working conditions that, sadly, impact on the mental well-being of employees and makes us wonder about the very nature of work itself.
Thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff.
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ActDrop listing for The Bread & Roses Theatre
Our show listing for Blue Tights, Red Knickers and an 'S' on Her Vest
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