Spine is a one-act, one-woman show in which troubled teen Amy (Rosie Wyatt) relates her friendship with an elderly widow. The story unfolds gradually, and writer Clara Brennan carefully crafts the development of the relationship over time.
We’re told the story through the loud, crass and at first uneducated mouth of Amy, a teenage tearaway looking for a place to stay after being thrown out of home. She’s a larger-than-life, unsubtle creation, happy to explain in detail about her period pains and bowel movements; and such a relentlessly in-your-face character takes a while to adjust to, especially if Amy is usually the type of person you’d avoid at parties.
Rosie Wyatt lives out Amy’s story masterfully, and she is a born storyteller. The individual moments she describes are astutely signposted, and she keeps you hooked for a full hour – no mean feat for one actor alone on stage. Wyatt breathes subtlety and nuance into a character written much more broadly, and makes some courageous decisions: without giving anything away, Wyatt’s interpretation of the final line, just at the lights fade, is ingenious.
In terms of the narrative, the most interesting aspect is the friendship between Amy and elderly widow and lifelong political activist Glenda. It’s there where the contrasts and similarities between the two women generations apart, and the dramatic themes raised by the writer resonate at their strongest. Glenda sees in Amy a protégée, somebody to whom she can pass on the baton of giving a political voice to the voiceless. Brennan uses the strong metaphor of closing libraries to convey this idea, with the elderly Glenda stealing (salvaging?) hundreds of books from a library closed down by an indifferent council under the auspices of a government that has ceased to care about people.
At its finest, Spine is a compelling celebration of the open availability of knowledge and the power its attainment enables, the importance of books, and the ordinary person’s capacity for self-education. Amy’s journey from hopeless, drifting, petty criminality to a young woman with a growing awareness of her political voice is crafted in a clever, funny, human story. So too is Glenda’s lament that the world she struggled to enable, and to which her late husband gave his health, has died without a fight or much of a whimper.
There are moments where the action sags: especially when Amy describes in detail her experience of breaking and entering and the ending of her friendship with a former best mate. A bizarre suggestion of the supernatural sits a little uncomfortably with the rest of the dialogue too: but overall Spine is a strong story well told.
Running to only just over an hour, Spine isn’t a full evening’s entertainment. However, anyone concerned by the themes raised by the play, or keen on the one-act form will enjoy the show. We also recommend Spine for Rosie Wyatt’s captivating solo performance.
Photos credit: Richard Davenport.