Review: Biography of My Skin
Miranda Harcourt’s new one-woman play "Biography of My Skin" has just opened at Downstage, and, crikey, it’s good. My co-theatre-goer Kowhai and I have spent a bit of time since discussing its impact on us.
The premise of "Biography of my Skin" is that it’s a one-woman biographical play written for actress Miranda Harcourt by her husband, Stuart McKenzie. So she’s telling her story, but in her husband’s words. Clever, huh?
There are different levels of Miranda and Stuart, as they become characters in the play, as well the the people behind the production.
The story focuses on Miranda’s life, jumping all around from childhood to her present life as a wife, mother, daughter and actor.
While it is a one-woman play, Miranda isn’t alone on stage. Behind her is a giant screen, where prerecorded clips of friends and family interact with her. They physically dominate her, but she argues with them or has personal chats.
She recounts hilarious tales of old boyfriends, her $4-a-metre wedding dress, the infamous "Gloss" party in the ’80s, but the story also goes into some deep, serious places. The play delves into some of the horrible experiences that have happened in her life – the kind of things that most of us would only share with those closest. And she’s an actress talking about a painful memory in her real life, and we as an audience know she’s speaking the words her husband wrote. Oh, there is tension.
The voice of Stuart, the husband and writer, comes through. Often he’s annoyed or frustrated with her, whether its his long-time crush on her before they were a couple, or that she couldn’t drive, leaving him to ferry around their young family.
Miranda comes across as a complicated woman, in a complicated marriage, which has managed to survive through hard work.
I remember some "Sex and the City" episode where it was decided that men didn’t usually like complicated women, and so love was harder for those complex ladies. But Miranda and Stuart’s relationship and marriage in the play gives hope to complicated girls. If two people involved in the arts bubble, with all its uncertainly and tension, can make it work, then perhaps there is hope for the rest of us.
It is a clever, brave, funny and thrilling play. Superbly written by McKenzie (I loved the clever twists and surprises), and superbly acted by Harcourt. Ka pai.
- Biography of My Skin plays at Downstage Theatre until October 31.