Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Brute, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Billy Barrett.
“You used to be such a nice girl. Now you’re such a brute,” Poppy’s mum tells her in this bitterly funny – and yes, subtly brutal – play written and performed by Izzy Tennyson. It’s little wonder: growing up in provincial lower middle-class England, Poppy and her friends’ teen years are marked by an undercurrent of daily, mundane violence – from the pack mentality of bully-or-be-bullied during school hours to fractured family relations and institutional neglect by the local mental health services.
Tennyson’s semi-autobiographical solo piece has a brilliant ear for teenage-isms – the rise at the end of each sentence as if it’s a question, the tendency towards exaggeration, and of course the ubiquitous “like”. She also has a terrific memory for the minutiae of early 21st Century adolescence; MSN messenger conversations and alcopops in the park.
But Brute’s most striking reminder is of just how cruel teenagers can be to each other. Poppy’s monologue – which spans the two-year build up to taking her GCSEs – is a nervously blurted barrage of casual homophobia, disabled jokes and take-downs of other people’s looks, as well as her own. This slowly reveals a painfully vulnerable self-awareness and a long-repressed trauma, as Poppy’s unfiltered thoughts spiral into acts of violence against herself and others. Director Ellie Browning teases out the play’s bleak comedy with simple staging around a school desk under harsh strip-lighting, blending live performance with recorded dialogue.
Tennyson is a master at making her audience snort with laughter one second only to gasp in horror the next, as the terrible implications of what she’s just said sink in. She’s created a compulsively watchable, strangely relatable, and profoundly disturbed character, who leaves you torn between the desire to give her a stern telling off and to hug her and save her from the world.
Underbelly Cowgate (venue 61) until August 30 / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 12 August 2015
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