Teenagers can be pretty nasty. You may have gathered that from your own school experience or at least seen a few films or read enough fiction to know about a huge spectrum of teenage personalities. Some of us would likely be unwilling to sit next to the 14 year old versions of ourselves on a bus. With that in mind, Izzy Tennyson’s Brute, which was written and developed through Soho Young Company Writer’s Lab in 2014-15, is hugely commendable.
The piece is one-woman show, acted and written by Tennyson. The lead character has to battle through the issues of being an adolescent. Tennyson has created a rare breed of teenager; Poppy is foul, awkward and mean, but wholly open for us to access, engage with and understand. Tennyson’s physicality on stage is the very expression of teenage anxiety: her shoulders slump, her long clumped hair distorts the majority of her face, and her stance is eternally off balance. Her body language is telling us that she wants to be ignored. The character that Tennyson has created is an unusual blend of dope and beast. She parades a line up of exaggerated faces on stage, squinting and pulling her cherub-like face in all sorts of contorted shapes that conjure up the very sensation of awkwardness. Tennyson’s portrayal of an outsider navigating through a new school is graceless and engaging. The Soho Rising Star has a comedic flair that the audience gravitate towards. It doesn’t take the young performer long to have get the crowd on her side, despite Poppy’s reels of vitriolic verbal abuse that she hurls churlishly at her classmates.
The play tells the complicated life of a school-girl who has just moved from Spain to a new school in England and is about to take her GCSEs. She becomes friends with a popular pretty girl, along with a cohort of ambitionless peers who populate her new life. Poppy invites the audience in to witness the myriad problems that face her and her peers: bulimia, self-harm, and encouraging the audience to engage with people who are different to themselves. At one point her friends sit in a circle and openly share their problems, which provides one of the more tender moments of the piece. Through communicating with her friends, our lead is now able to access her own trauma. She admits some troubling aspects of her past and things begin to spiral out of control. The play veers from a witty walk down a high school corridor into a troubled adolescent mind.
Brute is a powerful piece about the complications of being a teenage girl and feeling adrift. There aren’t many accounts of young women that don’t revolve around their sexuality. Brute is more about how unpleasant a person can be and the many complications that can arise to get them to that point.
Brute is blunt, unapologetic, and self-defining.
Brute is playing at the Soho Theatre until Saturday 19 March. For tickets and further information see the Soho Theatre website
Photo: Richard Davenport