Shaedates: or how I learned to love myself

Fri 5th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Miriam Brittenden

at 10:10 on 16th Aug 2016

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from a one-woman show about 'self-love’ and ‘mindfulness’. It brings to mind a range of predictable stereotypes, but happily this was anything but that. Shaelee Rooke’s self-written and performed ‘Shaedates: or how I learned to love myself’ is a wacky cocktail of acting, comedy, clowning, and original music. This piece is laugh-out-loud, feel-good theatre, which manages to originally explore the potentially clichéd subject of why society’s definition of happiness might not be the real deal.

When we meet Shae, we feel sorry for her, but in the (Bridget Jones-esque) kind of way we can feel sorry for ourselves. Optimistically, but deludedly, she tells us about her ‘modern’ relationship, with the forever absent but always ‘virtually’ present boyfriend Jonny X. We join her on a roller coaster of hilarious yet often poignant stories about situations she finds herself in. It’s a wacky and bizarre journey, including an underwater wedding in which the bride is dressed as a humpback whale, a mythical ‘space lady’ and Shae falling in love with herself – quite literally. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it.

One of the best things about the show, and one of the hallmarks of Rooke’s writing, is the stunning and side-splitting accuracy with which she manages to capture socially awkward moments. She pretends to spend a long time pondering a message for the wedding guest book to avoid the shame of not having a dance partner; she pretends to be a bouncer at a music gig when ‘Johny X’ fails to show (again) to avoid being seen alone; and she discusses the social anxiety incurred when sitting in a restaurant by oneself. Achingly familiar emotions are magnified through mime and melodrama to hilarious effect.

Rooke’s performance is impressive: over an hour of unwavering energy and an awful lot of dialogue must be commended. The ability to develop the character of Shae, through softer, quiet moments, in between morphing loudly into a whole ensemble of brilliant characters, whilst still maintaining a great intimacy with the audience, is a huge achievement. This contrast in tone is something, however, which could perhaps be developed more, to heighten the poignancy of particular moments.

The show’s beauty is its ability to be wacky and yet real. Whilst at one level it is a refreshing re-evaluation of modern dating and romantic expectations, it’s also so much more. As a witty exploration of the social anxieties and inner thoughts from which we all suffer, it is a colourful middle-finger to the pressures of the neatly-filtered, selfie-obsessed society we live in. The director Toby Hulse, should also be praised for what is a brilliantly executed production. Go in with an open mind, and hey – you might even learn something about yourself.

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Ellie Donnell

at 10:34 on 16th Aug 2016

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With all eyes on Shaelee Rooke in this intense one-woman show, Shaedates follows her humorous, albeit epiphanous, journey to self-discovery. Judging by the frequent leaps and bounds performed in the final few minutes of the show, it is also an exploration of total happiness. The spotlight is quite literally on Rooke, yet her quick and witty repartee carries through from start to finish.

The script is certainly humorous. Rooke's energetic and fast-paced speech is innocently childlike, and plays well juxtaposed against the numerous clichés and casual, sarcastic tone of the piece. Her metaphorical file of "dreams, likes and experiences", which she exclaims is inexplicably empty, comments satirically on the way women reduce themselves to fit male ideals. What initially seems like an innocent display of Shae’s less-than-perfect boyfriend in fact exposes and condemns the realities of misogyny, rendering the production a layered and complex piece of satire.

There are moments when the dialogue feels a little rushed. The first five minutes are spent having to adjust to Shae’s wide eyed, overzealous manner, as she eagerly opens her monologue by directly addressing the audience. My heart sinks as I settle in to experience an angry feminist rant about the flaws of men. However, I soon discover that the intensity of her fast paced speech is less a portrayal of pent up resentment, and instead contributes to her endearing persona. The piece is refreshing - it doesn’t take itself too seriously as the audience is invited to laugh, first and foremost at the absurdities of misogyny and female vulnerability, but equally at the inspiring nature of a woman who becomes empowered by herself through the juxtaposed style of a young and inexperienced child.

The use of music and sound effects plays well with the lighthearted nature of the piece. Hawaiian music is employed to take us back to Shae’s friend Flora’s wedding, then the beep of a horn signals she’s suddenly in a car, and finally, the rumble of thunder clearly invokes pathetic fallacy as she tumbles into emotions of fear and despair. Lighting is used to the same effect. Cool blue light sets the serenity of a wedding, whilst a single spotlight signals when Shae wants to convey a serious message. Although she is retelling past events, the audience remains wonderfully in the moment with Shae as she guides us through each tumultuous memory and emotion so that we truly relive the journey with her.

Shaedates is bursting with energy, humour and innocence. The overarching sense of Shae’s empowering journey leaves you fully satisfied that she has finally ‘grown up’, achieving the relief of independence and happiness.

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