Strong performances cannot save this overlong and underdeveloped production
Theatre has recently taken on more female queer stories with Turkey, Lobster, The Gulf and now Grotty featuring prominently in fringe theatre seasons. Izzy Tennyson’s (who also writes this play) stars as Rigby in this dark play that feels like Philip Ridley and Harold Pinter-esque in its doom and character names. If I had to compare Rigby to anyone it would be Maria Bamford; hyper, usually on some sort of drugs and washing them down with booze. She is a mess and everyone in the close-knit London lesbian scene knows it.
Grotty is a terrifying introduction to that scene with a reminder of the limited spaces lesbians have piggybacking on to ‘breeder’ clubs midweek or traditionally male gay clubs like Heaven. Rigby is new to the scene and her lesbianism (having previously been with men) is never clarified; has she always been gay or does she think females will be more sympathetic to her oddities. In the space of a few weeks, she is with then dumped by Toad (Rebekah Hinds) and begins a relationship with the intense, BDSM loving Witch (Grace Chilton).
It is an often-funny play with an intense performance from Tennyson as Rigby as she analyses the dark and baffling gay scene, her personality and her relationship with straight friend Kate (Rebekah Hinds) and her gay friend Josie (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) but it sadly and suddenly loses its way. It doesn’t know where to take Toad, Rigby and Witch’s relationship, it throws in a story about Witch that could easily be cut.
Tennyson’s background is monologues and Rigby is so developed as a character that the story’s conclusion seems to have been forgotten, despite listing Dramaturgy by Hauer-King and Adam Brace in this strong production directed by Hannah Haer-King with a dark and dingy set by Anna Reid in a venue that often feels like a nightclub in contrast to bright and blinding lighting from Zoe Spurr; the audience often feel like a rabbit in headlights with Rigby.
This ultimately a showcase for Tennyson but Uwajeh as Josie and Rigby’s nemesis and Toad’s ex Natty provides comic relief and a bit of tension. Chilton shines as the disturbed Witch and as the possible light at the end of the tunnel for Rigby as Elliott but Clare Gollop’s role as Mother is a waste of a character and backstory, that is clearly meant to shock but after lacklustre third doesn’t give this play the final blast of energy it needs.
Grotty is on until 26 May https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/grotty