Review: Skin Tight

by Emma Maguire on August 30, 2022

Skin Tight is my favourite ever play and I’ve been wanting to see it performed since I first read it. Circa Theatre did not disappoint with their iteration of this show; a gloriously evocative piece with incredible staging, performances and movement.

The play is not just a love story to its characters – and the highs and lows that come within their lives – but a love story to the landscape of this country, the rolling mountains, the rivers, and the dizzying snap of spring. It is this imagery that carries us into the piece.

A reimaging of Denis Glover’s poem The Magpies, Skin Tight sets us in an apple orchard, on a farm somewhere within rural New Zealand, where two lovers find themselves together.

Elizabeth (Ella Gilbert) and Tom (Arlo Gibson) are very much in love, and have weathered such grief in their lives. Our two characters and the dialogue dip in and out of temporality as they fight, make-up, love, live and grow old; ageless within two single actor bodies, but with the weight of many years on their backs. Gary Henderson’s writing is gorgeous, and so very real, with this pervasive sense of love undercutting the entirety of the script – love that is brutal, and passionate, and mourned when it is gone.

Skin Tight is a masterclass in physical theatre. Movement (Luke Hanna) and intimacy (Tandi Wright) intertwine within this work, creating a piece that almost dances through the beats of these characters’ lives. From fighting – rolling on the ground, pushing, slapping, biting and grabbing – to smaller, more sensual pieces of intimacy, the moment is held beautifully by our two actors, who perform wholly complex physicality across the show. There is one particular scene involving a knife that is one of the most daring and most erotic things I’ve even seen staged. I dread to think the state of the actors’ bruises by the time this season is over!

The heights of sensuality that these actors must reach within this show would be a challenge to most, but both Gilbert and Gibson surpass them with (seeming) ease, with a palpable chemistry and genuine heart. Elizabeth is cocky and quick to emote, and Tom a little more thoughtful, but both have their places within the work, finding their feet in moments about infidelity, and the War.  A strong directorial hand (Katherine McRae) is very apparent, with beautiful stage pictures that set the piece out amongst the starkness of the stage.

I’d like to make a special note of the designers behind this show, whose work is apparent but simplistic, an invocation to the notes of the landscape but does not distract from the movement of the piece. Brynne Tasker-Poland’s lighting is warm, cut softly across set and bodies; creating interesting shadows on the floor, bare thighs, the back wall of the theatre. Lucas Neal’s set is mostly dark, geometric poles that create the shape of a building, along with the infamous metal bathtub – which is filled with water across the course of the show. The music (Oliver Devlin) and sound design (Ben Kelly) are almost characters of their own – multi-dimensional but not overpowering, perfect notes that support the fever of the fighting and the wistfulness of the history within .

The final scene of the show has no dialogue, and is a send-off, in a way. Water falls from the ceiling, into the bathtub, and the characters strip naked, finally free from the trappings of years, to bathe together – one final sensual, deeply intimate moment. It is near spiritual in its framing, and we are left with an older Tom (KC Kelly), stepping out onto stage for a final moment, as his younger self sobs over his departed wife behind him. He stares off into the sky. A magpie cries. He cuts a final slice from an apple. We rest.

Skin Tight is being performed at Circa Theatre in Wellington until the 24th of September. Get your tickets here.

 

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