Brute is a one-woman play about an odd, volatile fourteen-year-old girl trying to survive the horrors of adolescence. This sold-out show, which received great reviews at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, was written and performed by Izzy Tennyson, who perfectly embodies the loneliness and confusion of youth, when every feeling was painfully amplified.
It starts out as a funny, well-observed comedy about teenage life. Poppy has moved to England from Spain, thrust into an all girls school where friendships can be made and lost in a day, each interaction fuelled by unwritten rules and competition. The social hierarchies are clear: Poppy is briefly rotated around the different cliques, but ultimately is not allowed to sit with the emo girls, and certainly not with the pretty girls. Her group of friends are self-defined “trolls and virgins”, one of many lines which shows the internalised misogyny the girls are filled with. Daily life is a constant battle to look different, to belong, to somehow fit in.
Tennyson’s physicality is outstanding. She has her audience laughing even before the first line, as she clumsily, reluctantly puts on her school tie. In a state of almost perpetual discomfort, Poppy twitches, grimaces, pulls on her fringe to cover as much of her face as possible, and awkwardly balls her fists into her oversized jumper. She talks directly to the audience and her speech is littered with “likes”, though this never feels like a parody, an adult mocking the way young people speak. The play is based on true events and Tennyson clearly has a great fondness for her character, despite all her flaws and irritating speech patterns.
The simple set, designed by Anna Reid, consists of a desk, some noticeboards and three curved, wooden chairs, evoking rooms full of bored students, where initials and swear words would be carved into the wood with a compass. There are also clothes hung up, changing room-style, and before the show had even started I found myself uncomfortable, remembering my own terrible-in-their-own-way schooldays. Poppy isn’t a likeable character, it’s hard to feel sympathetic towards her at first, but who doesn’t remember the nightmare of the classroom?
The play is incredibly well written, filled with beautifully insightful lines like “you haven’t done anything wrong, Emily, except be fat and vulnerable”. Ignoring another girl starts out seemingly as a harmless joke, but the torments soon escalate and the play develops into something much darker. Suicide, self harm, eating disorders and sexual abuse are all covered with humour and compassion. This might feel like too many issues to fit into an hour long play, but it never feels contrived. The unhelpful attitudes from the school counsellor and the mental health services are depressing, but unsurprising given the strain these services are currently under.
The ending itself is raw and powerful – Poppy’s assertion that she “could just be a horrible person” is heartbreaking. Brute will resonate with anyone whose adolescence was less than ideal. So, like, you know, like, everyone.
Brute will be continuing its run at Soho Theatre on 17th and 19th March at 7pm. You can book your tickets from 020 7478 0100 or http://www.sohotheatre.com
CAST AND CREW
Writer: Izzy Tennyson
Director: Hannah Hauer-King
Designer: Anna Reid
Lighting Designer: Jack Weir
Sound Designer: Charley Mackley
Dramaturg: Jules Haworth
Assistant Director: Avigail Tlalim
Photography: Richard Davenport
Poppy: Izzy Tennyson