Review: Spine, Soho Theatre

Amy is a hot-headed, feisty and wayward teenager who is failing at school, has fallen out with her lifelong best friend, and to complete her run of bad luck has just been kicked out of her family home. Unsure of what to do next, Amy finds herself on the doorstep of an opinionated elderly widow from the East End called Glenda, who has advertised a spare room in the local paper. Spine charts the unlikely friendship between a disillusioned teenager and a rebellious pensioner, both of whom are played masterfully by Rosie Wyatt who flits seamlessly from a brash cockney youngster to the quiveringly frail Glenda. Spine is a fast-paced and tender portrayal of friendship with an undercurrent of political upheaval.

As Amy, Wyatt delivers the monologue at break-neck speed, as she hurtles through tales of family, fights, friends and failed relationships. Wyatt’s portrayal of Amy is gutsy, yet brilliantly peppered with hints of vulnerability too. When she describes first meeting Glenda to the audience, she seems coy about donning the quivering voice of an elderly lady, but then resigns herself to it. Similarly, before revealing her misdemeanors, Wyatt winces uncomfortably with embarrassment and reluctance. It was also excruciating to see her double up in pain as she described her boyfriend brutally beating her.

The characterisation of Glenda was particularly refreshing, as far from being the archetypal sweet little old lady, skilled writer Clara Brennan has created a true radical and politically charged individual who thinks nothing of stealing hoards of library books to salvage them from her local library that was closing down. Her rebellious streak coupled with her expletives and toilet humour, mean that Glenda is the epitome of growing old disgracefully. Glenda’s defiant spirit awakens Amy’s previously apathetic attitude towards politics and also instills in her a new found love of literature. Their gradual bonding process results in a touching portrayal of friendship that crosses generations.

Spine is a moving piece of theatre, that praises community spirit and the transformative nature of friendship. It was awarded a string of awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, and I think deservedly so. Throughout Spine, Glenda imparts a great deal of wisdom to Amy, as after all “there’s nothing more terrifying than a teenager with something to say”.

Spine is playing at Soho Theatre until 2 November. For tickets and more information, see the Soho Theatre website.