Psychodrama is a gripping one-person show about an ageing actress under investigation for the murder of an auteur theatre director. Written and directed by Matt Wilkinson, and performed by Emily Bruni, this 70-minute long monologue presents a sharp, incisive take on the cut-throat nature of show business and the toll it takes on the lives of those who choose to be in it.
Through the eyes of its titular character, a middle-aged actress on the brink of being forgotten, we are introduced to the everyday realities of a creative struggling in an overly competitive industry – a dead-end job that demands more energy than what it deserves, the frustration of maintaining relationships that don’t actually serve you, the occasional self-indulgent purchases that remind you of just how broke you are, and a frantic, almost maniacal search to land the next big acting gig as you continue to lose out to those far younger (and more better-looking) than you. From the mundane happenings of her flat and retail job to nerve-wracking auditions and gruelling rehearsals, the play starts with our actress being interrogated by the police on her whereabouts the night of the murder. From there on, we get a glimpse into the life of this character and the many insecurities she grapples with. The pivotal moment in the text is the actress’ first meeting with the late director and how she manages to land – against all odds – the role of Marion Crane in his latest stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s iconic film ‘Psycho’. As she starts working on the project, which requires her to undertake intense one-on-one rehearsals with the director for long periods of time, the pressure starts building up and her emotional wellbeing is put to the test just as much as her acting chops. When she is finally confronted by the insecurities and anxieties built up by this high profile gig, things take a turn for the worse.
Bruni delivers a powerful performance, finding a strong balance between the character’s vulnerable and neurotic sides, and hooks you in from the very first minute until the very end. Through her generous and playful exploration of the text, she is able to draw the audience into the world of this actress and bring out the complex emotions and circumstances she grapples with. Wilkinson’s direction, that allows the performer to open up the text for the audience, allows Bruni the freedom to deliver gut-wrenching moments and humorous escapades of the actress with effortless ease, transition between different sections with subtle shifts in energy and spatial orientation. Tying it all together is a minimal yet effective sound design by Gareth Fry, that punctuates the shifts in the story’s action and timeline with sharp, focused sounds that match the tension of the scenes it foreshadows. The design by James Turner transforms the small studio space in the basement of a restaurant in Kentish Town into the site of the performance through a cleverly designed lighting rig setup that draws our full attention to the performer, and a flat white screen panel for projections whose positioning vis a vis the performer made me revisit the stage vs screen dilemma, which also serves as one of the many subplots of the text. Elliot Griggs’ light design is fantastic, succeeding in not just giving a visual background to the character’s conflicting emotion and pace, but also visualising the technical vocabulary and design of the screen acting world (such as the threatening red dot of a camera that’s recording) that elevates the ideas being explored in the text.
To summarize, Psychodrama is a sharp and witty exploration of the lives of humans in show business, highlighting some of the many personal and professional risks they must undertake in order to ‘make it’ through, even if it costs them everything they have.
Psychodrama plays at Never for Ever, Kentish Town NW51TL until Saturday 3rd July. Learn more and book your tickets at https://neverforeverkt.com/psychodrama
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 12th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★