TW: suicide mention.
We were already on this planet when our grandmother was pregnant with our mother. That is the statement with which Sophie Bentinck starts her one-woman show at the Pleasance. And that is exactly what she is exploring in the play directed by Noa Wagner. Pauline takes us on a journey of discovering the women who came before Bentinck.
With an inspiring charm, Bentinck enters the sparsely decorated stage featuring a plant, a clothing rack, and a camera. From the beginning of the show the actress manages to draw me in and make me feel comfortable before she goes into a deep dive into her best kept family secrets. She starts her show by explaining to us that this – Pauline – is not actually the show she had set out to do. She was going to present a fully developed play about her grandmother – Pauline – titled The County Inspector. But things happened and so she refrained from performing the show as is (or is that what we are supposed to believe). Bentinck never completely let go of the concept as most of Pauline consists of her acting out what the show would have looked like if she did it.
Pauline is a rollercoaster and we are strapped in tight as Bentinck goes above and beyond to discover her grandmother’s and mother’s past. Family trauma is at the top of the agenda because Pauline committed suicide when Bentinck’s mother was just twenty years old. But who wants to face something like that when you can instead make a show about it that makes people laugh? Bentinck covers everything in it – from her own diary excerpts from 2004, to her time getting arrested at Burning Man Festival, friends’ testimonials about her drunk alter ego, and of course her own grandmother’s suicide note. The show is heightened by intriguing recordings of her family’s Christmas, old family photos and a trippy acid montage which are projected onto a screen behind her.
I am absolutely captivated as Bentinck jumps from one story and one character into another. One minute she is the County Inspector, the next she revisits her acid trip, and another she actually impersonates her inspirational grandmother. And all while recording the best (well, most sensitive) bits for her mum who suffers from dementia. As strange as it might sound but in all the chaos and emotional discovery of her family’s dark past, Bentinck never fails to make us laugh. Her chaotic and genuine self-awareness have me on the edge of my seat for most of the show, and the way she creatively delays the story is compelling.
Pauline is storytelling at its finest, and even though it feels like a drug trip at times, it delivers highly emotional entertainment and superb theatre making. All thanks to the great late Countess Bentinck.
Pauline played at the Pleasance Theatre on 10 June 2021. For more information and tickets visit Pleasance Theatre online.