Cairns Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Louise is a confident, vivacious character: an ambitious young primary school teacher with a kick-ass attitude. But her best mate’s impending marriage spells the end of their flat-share, and Lou finds herself adrift. When she meets Ryan, he’s funny, sweet and considerate; he seems like the answer to all her problems. Sure, he’s a bit possessive, but that’s just because he’s insecure, and, yeah, it’s a shame he’s not more welcoming when her mum comes to visit, but he doesn’t get on with his own family, so it’s difficult for him. Lou shrugs off these early warning signs; she wants the relationship to work. And slowly, drip by inexorable drip, Ryan exerts his control…

A one-woman show, Ruckus, written and performed by Jenna Fincken, explores this horribly toxic relationship in unflinching detail. And when I say ‘horribly toxic’, I mean ‘depressingly familiar’ and ‘all too common’, because we’ve all at least known someone who’s experienced something like this; we’ve all shuddered at the red flags, even if we’ve been luckier in our own entanglements.

It’s a cleverly crafted piece: the writing is both bold and nuanced. We hear the story from Lou’s point of view, so even though we recognise that things aren’t right, it takes some time to realise just how bad they really are. Standout moments include the tragic irony of Lou supporting an at-risk child at school, then coming home to face a similar situation.

The change is gradual and unsettling; its unfolding is beautifully handled by director Georgia Green. By the end, there’s not much of Lou’s spark left; she’s a shadow, who has to ask permission to see her friends, who doesn’t have her own money or even her own door key.

The simple set comprises an empty white stage with a small raised platform, but it transforms into myriad places (a nightclub, a car, a house, a school), thanks to the sound and light design (by Tingying Dong and Simeon Miller respectively), which really help to create a disorienting and sometimes dangerous atmosphere.

If I have a quibble, it’s a very minor one, and it’s with the countdown clock. I like the idea of including the days, of building tension by letting us know how far we are from an unknown-but-definitely-scary climactic event, but the numbers are too big, and I find them hard to hold in my mind, which makes it difficult on occasion to know where I am in the timeline as it shuttles back and forth. I think it would be less confusing if, instead of 832 days, it said 2 years, 9 months and 3 days, for example, because it’s easier to keep track of that.

But that’s a small thing, and definitely not a game-changer.

Fincken’s performance is remarkable; she retains absolute control throughout, and the piece seems almost choreographed. She mimics rather than inhabits the minor characters, so that it’s always Lou’s impression of Whiny Briony, or Lou’s impression of her over-anxious mum. These impersonations are often funny, and provide welcome shafts of light, as well as reminding us of the life Lou could have had, who she still is inside.

Matthew Durkan voices Ryan (we hear him a lot, although we never see him). He has a gentle Mancunian voice; he always sounds reasonable, likeable, which is another clever touch.

Ruckus is a timely, artful piece of work, and Jenna Fincken is a name to watch.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield


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