Featured image: Oliver Walker – Mysterious Skin. Photograph: Courtesy of The Drill Hall and Em-Lou Productions.
Based on the novel by Scott Heim – which was turned into a film of the same name – this stage adaption of Mysterious Skin by Prince Gomolvillas wowed audiences and critics alike at both the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the 2011 International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. In Dublin, Oliver Walker and Julie Addy picked up awards for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively, for their roles which they reprise for the production’s return to London. So So Gay even had the chance to interview director Peter Darney, and cast members Nicole Faraday and Harry Bradshaw back in April.
Brian (Bradshaw) suffered blackouts as a young child and is desperately trying to figure out what happened during his lost time. He feels he has the answers when he meets Avalyn (Faraday), who believes she was abducted by aliens and thinks Brian shares her experience. Neil (Walker) is a nymphomaniac hustler with a penchant for not just the money, but older men. But his tricks are getting more and more dangerous and his best friend Wendy (Addy) is starting to worry.
The joy of this play is trying to figure out the link between Brian and Neil. For the first hour or so not much story progression is made; nor does anything quite click together. But by no means does this make for dull theatre. The dialogue is alluring: keeping the action from becoming dry and painting a heartfelt picture of the conflict between companionship and obsession. It’s the slow exposition of pasts and present inching towards a reveal that keeps the audience intrigued, never letting too much on at once but giving just enough away to draw the audience deeper. All the time, there is the simmer of something sinister and not quite right with their stories. This is helped along by Sherry Coenen’s atmospheric lighting, Jo Walker’s eerie sound design, and director Darney’s commendable exploitation of empty space, which gives the entire production a sparse and uneasy feel.
The twist is unexpected and shocking. Indeed, it’s intensely uncomfortable. Without giving too much away, it deals with a subject that many will find disturbing, especially with its rather unconventional approach and level of detail. But even at its most horrible, the dialogue is steeped in a deft and hideous eloquence from which it is impossible to tear yourself away.
Moreover, the cast are all superb. Even Dave Cutter is believable and organic of each of the various roles he portrays throughout. But the main performances are phenomenal: they all manage to portray people teetering on the edge of reason, but never without a real sense of humanity or ever becoming unconvincing. By a tiny margin, Faraday gives a stand-out performance, especially in her final monologue, brimming with just the right amount of regret and desperation that is Avalyn.
This is without doubt theatre at its most compelling and affecting, with a brilliant script and defining performances.
Mysterious Skin played at the Drill Hall, London, WC1E 7EX, between 18 – 20 September 2011. For more information about upcoming productions, visit www.drillhall.co.uk.