Review: Spine by Clara Brennan, at the Soho theatre

Spine photo Richard Davenport

Rosie Wyatt as Amy. Photo Richard Davenport

Plays talk to each other, I know they do. One evening I saw James Graham’s The Angry Brigade, and the next I saw Clara Brennan’s Spine at the Soho theatre. Spine is, in essence, the angry brigade, if angry is furiously tender and livid and paralysed by answers and galvanised by questions and innocent, oh so innocent you can clearly see till the end of the world.

Spine is a little like Harold and Maude but without the sex. Was there any sex in Harold and Maude? Probably not. OK I might be wrong about Harold and Maude but I am not wrong about this: Spine is brilliant. It punches through. It’s about saying you want a revolution and actually meaning it. It’s like coming up to a closed door, knocking and screaming and kicking it down, and when it opens, it takes your breath away. It’s about people crawling out of books. It’s about the NHS (trust me, it is). It’s about a book thief at the house at the end of the road. It’s about saying “I own my vagina” more loudly and clearly than Vagina Monologues ever did. It’s  about having the courage to be the mischievous warrior angel others see in you. It’s about having courage, full stop.

It’s alarming – almost creepy – how Clara Brennan – and director Bethany Pitts – tapped into all the big, unfinished thoughts that hum at the back of my brain, all day every day. Every time I thought “that bit is so right, it’s the essence of the play”, they changed course and gave us something equally important and monumental. Because, if I didn’t make it clear before, it’s a political play. It’s about keeping the road open for the people coming after you.

Rosie Wyatt as Amy is playful and gorgeous, the way boys are encouraged to be and girls rarely are. Strutting the stage, pelvis out, naked arms, it’s a performance that captures that moment when, overwhelmed with bravado and tenderness, you might cry, punch or both. She has the openness of someone who doesn’t want to be open but can’t help it, a little like crying and then crying some more because you are furious you cried in the first place. And then laughing, because wonderful things happen whether you are ready to recognise them or not.

The set – designed by Alison Neighbour – is stacks of books, like trees in a forest to run amongst. The freedom and heart thumping exhilaration is unmistakable. As are the ghosts – good ghosts, beautiful ghosts – in the shadows.

Spine plays at the Soho theatre till November 2. It will very likely end up in my top ten productions of the year.  I can’t recommend it more clearly than that.

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