Review by Lowri Spear
CW: mentions of self-harm and sexual harassment of a minor
Bandages is a deeply thought provoking, harrowing and brilliant piece of writing by Chloe Jacobs. Exploring both the interiority and exteriority of trauma, the catch-22 effect of female beauty and the cyclical motions of an intense mother/daughter relationship, the audience are left wholly captivated and wholly uncomfortable as you watch the past and present interact and collide.
Through the lens of a series of psychiatric therapy sessions and flashbacks, the narrative itself follows a young woman named Isabelle who mutilates her own face, and slowly unfurls her reasons throughout. The whole space is plagued by Isabelle’s torment; the audience are met by Sterre Barentsen’s starkly lit and dressed stage, the props themselves bandaged and covered. This backdropped the particularly disturbing opening scene, reminiscent of something you might see in a Sarah Kane play, as Isabelle sits centre stage in a gripping silence, attempting to cut her wrists before slicing open her cheek.
Lou Lou Curry (who plays Isabelle, and also co-directed the play) gave a particularly powerful performance, switching fluidly between Isabelle and her mother Meddy with a turn of the head. I think both her performance and Jacobs’ writing can be credited for the main character’s portrayal. She is never romanticised, never a victim of her trauma but angry, strong and firmly in control of her own agency. Some of the most entertaining scenes were between her and Ellie Cooper, who plays the sarcastic and patronising Dr. Guild. The rapport between these two actors was wonderful, the pace never slowing, and there were some surprisingly humorous moments of dark comedy.
The actors in this play are never afraid of silence, mentions of which permeate the script and the physical performances. A particularly powerful moment demonstrating this was the scene in which young Isabelle (Leanne Yau) is forced to entertain one of her father’s male friends. It is both uncomfortable and affecting as the dialogue slows and you are left watching a young girl, and her mother, slowly begin to cry – trapped in an oppressive and aggressive home. Leanne’s performance as Young Isabelle was deeply moving, and she really commanded the audience’s attention on stage.
I occasionally felt like the writing lacked some subtlety in the portrayal of Eno (the husband figure, wonderfully and terrifyingly played by Joe Stanton) who existed in a constant state of fury. With the whole play being underpinned by the notions of psychoanalytical exploration (even the scenes set in the past still remain in the realms of the doctor’s office, with Dr. Guild always examining), I would have liked if the audience were allowed to infer a little more for themselves.
However, as Jacobs’ script flirts between poeticism and realism, there are some really incredible moments in the writing. The monologues were especially gripping – I only wish they hadn’t been overwhelmed by the whirring sound of the bicycle, which became slightly distracting. With no credited lighting designer, the simple choice of representative cool and warm washes of light was perfectly suitable in moving the action between the past and present. In some of the more abstract and representational moments though (such as the mirroring movements between mother and daughter, older Isabelle and younger Isabelle) it might have been nice to have something more dynamic to match, and possibly some music to bridge the gap between repeated black-outs.
I left the theatre in an emotional state balanced somewhere between awe and shock. This play makes you think, it makes you investigate and doesn’t allow you to be complacent as you are pulled along a haunting, and deeply relevant, journey of discovery.