Underneath, written and performed by Pat Kinevane, shows a dead woman recounting her life on Earth, and the discrimination and abuse she has suffered there. This reasonably interesting premise was completely ruined by poor writing, sloppy structure, and tedious repetition.
In this play, Pat Kinevane, who appears to be a cis, able bodied white dude, plays a disabled woman while covered completely in black makeup throughout. Now, I don't think that this is in and of itself offensive. But I have to ask - why? What was his motivation to tell this story? Why exactly does his depiction of a corpse look so much like blacking up? Why is he a better actor to portray this character than a woman?
Part of my problem with this is that the play was, in parts, strikingly misogynistic. Pat's naked contempt for the women who come to weddings, 'their faces a mask of makeup' in order to 'throw up in the flowerpots and piss in the lift' is really unsettling, and not offset by his characterisation of his female protagonist - he doesn't even give her a name. Is this a dramatic device used to prove a point? Yes, certainly. But I keep coming back to the same question. What is the point?
At 1hr 45mins, the play is punishingly long. It should have been about half the length - and this was all the more galling as so much of the content was just repetition of the same tired jokes and points and could easily have been cut.
The play's structure makes action very difficult to follow - we are pulled between our protagonist in the present day as a corpse, the story of her life and some seemingly random parodies of pop culture references - most commonly A Place In The Sun - or a tuneless song. To add to the confusion, the life story is not really in chronological order. This has the effect of making the ending seem both crushingly inevitable and appearing to come out of nowhere.
The acting is decent in places, the direction solid and the set design striking and clever. But this is not enough to save what was one of the worst plays I've ever seen. It seems to meander around endlessly in circles, offering almost no depth to what could have been an interesting character and scenario.
And yet. This play has won a Fringe First, it's previous reviews include 5 stars in the New York Times - and the rest of the audience absolutely loved it. This made for deeply unsettling watching. There was so much laughter, but I couldn't see any jokes, only the odd swear word. I must be missing something. Please, please comment below if you saw and liked the show and let me know what it is!