Skins and Hoods

★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 10 Aug 2015

This show, arriving at Edinburgh from the 2014 Avignon Festival, soon turns into something quite different to what you might expect. Mixing audio-visuals with live performance, Gustave Akakpo's play, translated by Katherine Mendelsohn, unfolds like a dark, poetic fable of our times, full of uncanny, haunting imagery.

It starts like a tale of racism, with Mamadou (Thierry Mabonga) bullied for his skin colour by a cackling chorus of monochrome hoodies, faces hidden, who loom over him from video screens. It doesn't matter that he only lives down the street – they want his 'culture'. But so, too, does his friend, George (Moyo Akande). And she's stolen the skin of a dead girl to be like him.

Matthieu Roy's hi-tech production wraps a stark, surreal aesthetic around a story of cultural appropriation but, as importantly, of social invisibility – of teenagers lost and disaffected, grasping for identity. In one startling moment, George unzips her 'skin' and lets it fall, revealing the silver sheen of her in-between self. It's a visual of visceral, disturbing beauty. 

At its best, this show melds digital and live action into the kind of storytelling that hits in the pit of your stomach. At other times, though, it pulls you out of the grip of the pulsing street poetry Mendelsohn has forged out of Akakpo's writing. And the play itself stumbles at the end, its sudden celebration of community at odds with what has gone before. But its fierce originality will leave a lasting impression.