Andie is practically an adult but there are a few things she’d like to do before her big birthday: go on a date with her best friend, confront her father, and find her mother. In Dead Skin, two girls’ coming of age moments cosmically intertwine in an eerie, off-kilter love story.
Andie (Laneikka Denne) has never known her mother (Sarah Jane Kelly) but their lives at 17 reflect similar feelings of chaos and uncontrollability as they wile away time at their convenience store jobs and navigate thorny, pivotal relationships. As Andie rages towards adulthood, though, it seems like everything is falling apart with her chronically distant dad (Abe Mitchell), his hyper-positive new girlfriend (Camila Ponti-Alvarez), and Andie’s best friend turned lover turned enemy Maggie (Ruby Maishman).
Denne’s script was jagged and fractured into short, overlapping, and unexplained scenes or moments. Time moved between Andie’s parents meeting and getting pregnant and Andie’s current life at the convenience store, at school, and hiding in her bedroom. The relationships were similarly broken with a lot of mystery and dead-end conversations around Andie’s father, possible pedophilia, and mental illness or trauma. Direction from Kim Hardwick was frenetic from the racing dialogue of innuendo and in-jokes between Maggie and Andie alienating the audience from the out-set, to implications of hallucinations left unexplained, and then the use of melodramatic video montage, designed by Roger Stonehouse, that upset the production’s tone and focus.
Dead Skin was overall messy and undecided but there were moments that crackled: Maggie meeting her best friend’s dad’s eyes across a dance floor, Andie making out with her knee for practise, and Maggie and Andie’s bitter break-up. The sharp, skittering dynamic of Maggie and Andie’s relationship was fresh and thrilling and stood out amongst the distracting side-concerns of the script.
Maishman’s Maggie gave a particularly compelling performance as the cool, easy, cheeky teen especially against Denne’s awkward, unpredictable Andie. Kelly’s Andrea was equally interesting when bantering with Mitchell, who gave an admirable performance for a rather hollow, unreadable character.
Denne is a new playwright, having written Dead Skin when she herself was 17, and she demonstrates a talent for raw, untameable emotion in her writing. There is great potential in her work for a new, exciting tone on Australian stage even if this production feels overwrought by gimmick.
Dead Skin is running at Kings Cross Theatre from April 2nd – 17th
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