EFR - Reviews of Brute

Brute

Thu 6th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Flo Layer

at 09:04 on 8th Aug 2015

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Brute transports the audience back to the secondary school years of the early noughties – the time of MSN and Jane Norman bags, the emotional turbulence of puberty, the pressures of getting a boyfriend and the worst sort of back acne.

Yet for the play’s protagonist and sole performer Poppy (Izzy Tennyson), these teen anxieties extend way beyond the struggle to join the ‘cool girl’ clique into a world of intensely disturbing troubles. Featuring self-harm, neglect, depression and child-abuse, this play bravely confronts the teenage issues that are often left un-addressed in our ‘welfare’ state.

Tennyson’s portrayal of the 14-year-old Poppy was no-doubt skilled, if a little unvaried, losing at times some of its emotional impact through being fairly monotonous in tone. Yet her crouched and bumbling posture, together with the occasional twitch, brought an immediate sense of vulnerability to the role, which could otherwise come across as fairly unsympathetic.

The occasional crescendo as Tennyson reached an emotional climax is superbly matched by the stark use of stage lighting which shone directly into the audience’s eyes. Chills ran up and down my arms as Poppy’s screams were cleverly accompanied by blinding white light.

A particular highlight included a scene where Poppy faces a hospital nurse, whose sprightly questionnaire was enough to make you despair about the awareness of mental health issues in our current society. This play certainly presents a clever, albeit subtle, criticism of the health care system, where serious mental health issues are dealt with in a naive and flippant manner.

Poppy’s recollection of her mother’s insult is a particularly poignant and moving moment in the play: “You used to be such a nice girl, now you’re such a Brute”.

In the closing scenes a clever and disturbing twist, which makes the audience revaluate its trust in the otherwise engaging and persuasive narrator, gave the play a suitably dramatic finish.

‘Brute’ is a promising sample of brand new writing, with hints of brilliance. The script was saturated with incredibly imaginative imagery perfectly attuned to 14-year-old Poppy’s high-school character, ranging from the flock of birdlike ‘cool girls’ that flee and return in the presence of an undesirable, to the unknown, absent father figure of ‘daddy in the attic’.

Although early-night nerves and a script that was perhaps just a little too long to retain the shock-factor slightly marred the performance, Tennyson should be thoroughly commended for delivering this powerful play.

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Holly Willis

at 11:21 on 8th Aug 2015

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Brute, written and performed by Izzy Tennyson, is an ambitious and hard-hitting piece of theatre. Tennyson plays Poppy, a troubled schoolgirl, who presents her experiences at school in a one-woman show that feels more like an hour-long therapy session than a play. The script is at once deeply disturbing and darkly funny, moving from light-hearted conversation to anecdotes about abuse, suicide and self-harm. If you’re looking for feelgood comedy then it’s safe to say Brute won’t be your thing, but if you’re up for something brave and thought-provoking then it is a must-see.

The minimalist set ensures that the audience can’t be distracted from the issues Tennyson is tackling: a simple desk, chair, and rucksack are the only props that appear on stage. There is the occasional voiceover from Poppy’s friends or teachers, which is useful in easing the transitions between scenes and, more importantly, providing the audience with a welcome breather from the heavy subject matter. That is, however, the most exposure we get to any other characters.

Everything feels very stripped-back and raw; the focus is firmly on Poppy and her world. This is particularly effective, as the audience is given no choice but to see everything through her eyes. Tennyson is engaging and commands the stage, skilfully drawing the audience further and further into Poppy’s head for maximum emotional impact.

Overall, the acting is impressive. Tennyson portrays her character in a convincingly naturalistic manner and addresses the audience frankly and honestly. I found myself sympathising easily with Poppy, feeling particularly emotionally affected when she spoke of her experiences with abuse. That said, her colloquial manner felt monotonous at times, and a few more changes in tone and a greater use of pauses would have helped to maintain audience interest. Tennyson’s performance builds well and by the end emotions are running high. With a bit more variation at the beginning, it would dramatically improve.

This show should come with a trigger warning, as the content is of a very sensitive nature. That said, I would hugely recommend it. Tennyson deserves credit simply for undertaking to perform what is effectively an hour-long monologue. She says herself that her audience will leave feeling as if they have been ‘hit by a car’ and, if the way I felt as I left is anything to go by, the desired effect was certainly achieved.

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