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Sharp Edges
Etcetera Theatre
27th August 2016

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Sharp Edges

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Glancing at Sophie (Amelia Sweetland), there doesn't seem to be anything particularly unusual about her. She looks relatively normal, dressed smartly in skinny trousers, a shirt and blazer. Look a little closer though and there's a lot of fidgeting and nervous energy, like she's concealing something. The man sitting to her left (Sam Patrick), listening calmly, observing attentively and yet not saying very much, isn't a friend, relative or business partner - he's her therapist. There's a lot going on inside Sophie's head, more than she's prepared to admit and she's been forced to try to address those issues in counselling sessions. Sharp Edges is a two-hander written by Sweetland about the hidden, debilitating effects of mental illness.

The live action is punctuated by moments of prerecorded film showing Sophie at home, in some very mundane situations. We see her washing a few times, declaring that there's nothing like a hot shower, almost as if she thinks the water is capable of washing away her problems. This stylised, moody footage, edited by Andy Barrow, gives us another perspective on Sophie's state of mind. She frequently says very little of significance when we watch her interacting with her therapist, however we get a chance to hear her inner monologue in this alternative medium and understand that there really is more to her than she's letting on. Repeated words, looped scenes and hollow expressions reveal more depth to her character, with the two-dimensional video also creating a sort of barrier between her and us. It's a very effective and clever use of multimedia.

The mundane chit chat between Sophie and her therapist is deliberately drawn out and slow, underlining her apparent reluctance to co-operate with the sessions and the harsh reality that there is no quick fix for mental illness. Sophie explains that sleeping pills are all she needs to cope, with her therapist unconvinced that they will really treat the cause of her troubles and instead only mask the symptoms. There does needs to be a bit of a lull here, nonetheless it still feels that director Rosie Frecker could up the pacing slightly. Whilst I do understand the point of creating a character for Sophie to bounce off, the counsellor is reduced to a rather flat device rather than developed character and I feel this piece would work better as a one-woman show.

Despite the coldness of the version of Sophie captured on film, Sweetland's performance on screen is incredibly intense and emotional. This woman seems more honest and raw, perhaps in part due to the lack of other protagonists in each frame. She's not answerable to anyone other than herself. It's primarily this powerful solo performance that makes me wonder why there need be anyone other than Sweetland unpicking this character for us. Blending the two mediums does work well and it's a technique that should be retained, but a monologue for both could be more satisfying.

Sharp Edges is an interesting exploration of living with mental illness. Sweetland's portrayal is highly believable and gripping and raises awareness of invisible conditions in a very sympathetic way.

Sharp Edges ran on 7th August at The Lion and Unicorn, 10th August at Camden People's Theatre and from 24th to 28th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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