Regardless of films like Gran Torino, or plays such as Educating Rita and Mrs Reynolds and the Ruffian, Spine impresses the audience with its life altering protagonist. The aforementioned titles include tales of a Chinese boy escaping ganghood, a young woman’s whole life modifying after graduation, and a troubled teenager, causing havoc in the neighbourhood. The common theme between them all, including Spine, sees one older person guiding a younger through society’s conventions.
I originally wrote it as a 15 minute play for Theatre Uncut. It was inspired by a London community who have tirelessly campaigned against the needlessly brutal closure of Kensal Rise library. I wanted to write out my fury at the government spending review- ideological hikes in university fees, library closures, and I wanted to see if I could take an underprivileged working class teenager and give her political aspirations – how does a kid from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ get into politics? Inevitably you step away from something and see how personal it is. Then I met director Beth Pitts and we just clicked. I’ve never been challenged like this before – she said ‘Turn it into a full-length play and I’ll put it on.’ And here we are.
Spanning over just one hour, the playwright, Clare Brennan, drags you into Amy’s (Rosie Wyatt) reality. This monologue embraces the stereotypes of a teenager in London. Introducing herself with a ‘shiner’, her description mirrors the actions on stage, detailing every aspect – from girls at school, her choice in boyfriends and her family home. It all results in a glowing honest feebleness.
Amy, responding to an ad for a room to let, is led to Glenda, an elderly lady whose life has existed in a Willesden property for over 138 years. Granted the house as a present for loyal service, what is this descendant’s purpose? What is lurking in her house? The past of literary heroes or the ghosts of her own past? How do these intertwine with Amy’s existence? Brennan keeps the audience guessing and subtlety answers all stirring suspicions.
During a technology era in which synths have become a reality, what is the realistic longevity of paper in comparison to ebooks? If efficiency is the argument for the latter’s purpose, what are the generations before us left to teach the generations to come?. With library after library being cut out of present reality, users have become a statistic of this proposed regeneration dream.
Brennan, herself from a working class background, writes with realism. The dialogue at times pops into the mind before the words are spoken and these are the moments in which Wyatt is outstanding. Wyatt reprising the role is what the script deserves as much as Amy deserves Wyatt’s vitality. Every significance of Amy’s expressions is drilled into and she represents the reality of being pushed out of London’s inner neighbourhoods. Wyatt has surpassed her role in Mumburger; her bohemian character is a separate, fresh performance, not a repetition of past achievements.
How does an ever repeating theme fit with contemporary audiences at Soho Theatre? Alison Neighbour’s design first of all matches the exact description in which Amy envisions her future library. Books on shelves made out of breezeblocks. This combined with Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson’s lighting accentuates the moments in which Amy is truly scared, happy, confused – and the last moments of optimism. The songs chosen to play as the audience sits down reflect the RnB club scene, with the likes of Niki Minaj playing. It connects with Londoners, with the reality of an unattractive life spliced with what is expected from the educated. A mish-mash of classes delivered with emotional dignity.
Spine is an entertaining play with a superb performance by Rosie Wyatt. Although we have seen increasing number of monologues emerge during fringe seasons, would Spine benefit from having a similar treatment to Educating Rita? Brennan has defended the choice of monologue due to “The entire point focusing on a teenage girl unable to express her rage and grief so she tells this whole convoluted story” yet the script has potential to go one step further with at least one more person standing alongside Amy.