Self-harm and comedy don’t seem like concepts that sit quite right together; it almost feels like a toxic pair. But Aoife Kennan nails this combination, and with such panache!
Kennan starts off on stage with a sex story that seems like a one-woman comedy show, only to be interrupted by her ‘best friend’ played by Zak Ghazi-Torbati. Together, the duo challenge stereotypes, take a dig at how ‘diversity and inclusion’ boxes are commonly ticked, how GPs only focus on handing out medication instead of dealing with the feelings and how they can outdo each other’s stage presence – which is a hard contest because they’re both brilliant performers!
In the power packed hour, we are able to gently unpack what goes on in the brain and body of those battling with anxiety and depression, and how that leads to self-harming behaviour. Gory as it sounds, the dark content is handled with great care, never oversharing any details and only referring to the behaviour as ‘the thing.’ The sensitivity with which the stories are shared could only come from a real understanding, perhaps lived experience, of anxiety and suicidal feelings. Kennan uses words like ‘sad’ and ‘bad’ which make the language of the show very accessible to people who may have no knowledge or experience of mental illness, wonderfully creating awareness around the topic and taking every step to ensure it is minimally triggering.
The signposting of scenes and which character was speaking and who they were speaking to was very explicitly mentioned. Usually, this would feel like the audience is being treated as being quite dumb where they need to be spoon fed information, however, the slickness with which it was done actually worked well for the show.
When you are fully engrossed in and enjoying a show, you forget about the director – and that is a mark of great direction. Gabriella Bird has expertly woven together different genres, as the piece moves the audience through a variety of tempo, dynamics, empathy and bucket loads of laughter. The duo on stage frequently break out into song, including a feel-good song (pun intended) about antidepressants. The musical highlight of the evening is an excellently sung solo by Ghazi-Torbati on not sleeping with your ex.
The show is both – bold and vulnerable. It dishes out a fresh, real perspective on what it is to live with a mental illness in the most entertaining fashion. With the solid best friend chemistry and superb comic timing of both performers, there is never a dull moment, not even in the quieter, more emotional scenes. I wasn’t expecting to laugh this hard! Scratches beautifully does what good theatre often strives to do – entertain and educate. Please do yourself a favour and catch the show!
Scratches is running until 11th November 2023 at Arcola theatre. Tickets can be found at https://www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/
Reviewer: Aditi Dalal
Reviewed: 8th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: