A stunning central performance, superb casting and a striking, minimalist set combine to make this seminal 2012 novel come alive on stage. This is powerful, visceral, and shocking.
Anais Hendricks (Anna Russel-Martin) is a 15-year-old girl who has been locked in to the ‘care system’ since birth, and has now been transferred to the Panopticon, a young offender institution, after being suspected of putting a policewoman into a coma.
She is fierce, articulate, and independent, as well as full of dark humour, and she develops deep bonds with the other inmates - broken, frail human beings who have also been failed by the system and only have each other to depend on for support and friendship.
The minimal, stark set is made of nine revolving panels arranged in a semi-circle. If this is a Panopticon where everyone can be observed, it is the audience that is observing and scrutinising throughout, as well as feeling enclosed, and itself observed.
Anais addresses us through cutting monologue which is rich in humour and insight. Alongside this, the video projection onto the set of both fantastic and phantasmagoric images works to great effect to show us what is in Anais’ mind. Sometimes it is her fantasies of being born and living in Paris, at other times three dark, sinister hooded figures haunt her thoughts, with a soundscape to match that is either elegaic or ominous.
Jenni Fagan has adapted and distilled her original novel brilliantly, and the stark, existential pain of being ‘in care’ bleeds through to illustrate the rage and frustration felt by Anais and her fellow inmates. The scene where drug dealers entrap and rape Anais is, like much of the action brutal, shocking, and disturbing.
There are also hugely funny scenes, with the memorable sight of a wasted PVC-clad auntie waving a dildo around, and a stunningly simple but effective car chase demonstrating the humour to be found even in the most desperate situations.
All of the cast deliver credible, powerful performances, and the combination of set, story, staging and performances force the audience to question their fundamental assumptions about the care system, and those who are inside it.
This is a production to shock, stimulate and challenge you, and it's already booking out. Get your ticket now.
4 stars ★★★★
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 10-19 October 7:30pm