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Theatre Review: Skank

Pleasance Two, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 25th August

I don’t recall when or where I first became aware of Clementine Bogg-Hargroves’ one-woman play Skank – probably while Facebook doom scrolling – but it made a lasting impression on me. Despite knowing next to nothing about the show’s premise, the colourful attitude of its protagonist – portrayed in grungy promo shots – got my attention. Who was this woman in her fluffy pink jacket and fishnet stockings? Why was she holding a tin of baked beans?

When Skank eventually came to Edinburgh in 2021 – for the Fringe’s scaled-back post-Covid edition – I figured I’d get my chance to find out. It was a sell-out run, earning a critic’s choice award from The Times. Clearly, this was a phenomenal achievement for everyone involved in the production, but for me it was bad news, having foolishly left it too late to pull the trigger, missing out on a ticket and the answers to my questions. Fortunately, Skank returned to The Pleasance this August – for the Fringe’s triumphant unrestricted return – and this time, I bagged my ticket, sat back and nervously waited to find out, after all this time, if it was actually any good. I needn’t have worried.

Skank is the story of Kate, a bored, zany, twenty-something office worker with ambitions of being a writer. Over the course of an hour, she unloads her dreams, frustrations and anxieties on the audience through a series of fourth-wall-breaking monologues and interactions with colleagues, family members and health professionals. Sure, it’s a one-woman show, but through clever use of recorded voiceovers, several other characters are introduced, with personalities that will be familiar to most – albeit somewhat hyper realised. But it’s these hyper-realistic yet believable characters combined with the often over-the-top nature of Kate’s actions, her fantasies and her uninhibited inner voice, where much of the comedy is born. Unless you’re some sort of humourless automaton, you’ll get more than a few laughs before the show ends.

It’s not all fun and games, though. Amidst the hilarity, there’s a profoundly affecting storyline dealing with the anxiety, stress and worry of a health scare. The way Clementine Bogg-Hargreaves is able to effortlessly walk that perilous tightrope between humour and sorrow is a testament to her ability as both a writer and a performer (reminding me of Jess Brodie and Victoria Bianchi’s Help Yourself that I had the pleasure of seeing at Hidden Door back in June). Kate’s story is something that most of us can relate to as a formerly (or currently) disaffected youth or through the experience of confronting one’s own mortality – either first-hand or vicariously through family or friends – and the emotional moments hit just as hard as the punchlines. In the hands of a less capable performer, it’s a story that has the potential to fall flat, but Clementine Bogg-Hargreaves’ seemingly effortless combination of physical comedy, sarcasm, sardonic wit and heartfelt drama makes Skank an absolute joy to watch. “What about the baked beans?” you ask. You’ll just have to find out for yourself.

Skank’s current run has ended, but you can follow @skank_the_play on Instagram for updates.