This play does not deal with easy topics: addressing both gender issues and sexuality, Her Naked Skin, a play about suffragettes, is surprisingly, and refreshingly, modern. These are important issues today and thus an excellent and brave choice to stage but unfortunately, the play was not all that it could have been.
In the first scene of the play, we are immediately introduced to the facts that these women, fighting for female suffrage, suffered appalling treatment, namely being force-fed while in prison – an act akin to torture (a fact that is rather distressingly emphasised later on in the play). We are ready to feel for these women but the sympathy, for me, never truly developed.
The focus is on the repeated prison sentences that many suffragettes served, as well as the growing relationship between two of them: Eve Douglas (Claudia Grigg-Edo) and Celia Cain (Bea Svistunenko) except, I never saw any growing relationship. There were some very touching moments between the pair, yet the speed in which each new scene started and ended (perhaps more a problem of the script itself) never allowed the audience to feel any true emotion for the pair. One felt very much an outsider to their relationship. That is not to say that the roles were acted poorly: Svistunenko gave a powerful performance that allowed us to see the many layers to her character, as my sympathetic position towards her oscillated over the course of the play. Aoife Kennan also brought an added dimension to the other relationship that the audience is witness to: she plays Celia’s husband William Cain, a man who supports his wife’s choice to fight for female suffrage yet cannot reconcile himself with her suffering for the cause. Their relationship was undeniably believable and quite moving. However, the strongest performance was undoubtedly that of Yasmin Freeman as Florence Boorman: as the senior most member of the suffragettes in prison, and the most stoic character on the stage (not a role that is played with ease) she evoked both humour and pathos.
There were some lovely directorial touches in the play, including the addition of music and song: the crew did well in maintain a contextual realism in the set and the performance as a whole. It seems that this was a hard play to put on, and an excellent effort was made, but a consistent feeling of awkwardness – all was not quite right – left me somewhat lacking in emotion, when I could have been in tears.