What is sex, exactly? What “counts” as sex? It’s the question that haunts Alana (a magnetic Lydia Larson) throughout Skin a Cat, Isley Lynn’s intensely intimate coming-of-age narrative. Alana has vaginismus, a psychosomatic condition which prevents her from having penetrative sex, and which increasingly hangs over her romantic relationships and her own sense of self-worth.
Blythe Stewart directs with a deftness of touch which is most apparent in her adroit handling of Lynn’s alternately excruciatingly funny and horrific sex scenes: Stewart aptly draws out the ridiculousness of teenage sexual encounters without being overly coy or exploitative. And in a play about female sexuality, there is no unnecessary nudity: rather, Larson is clad in layers upon layers of nude underwear, her body protected from external forces in a shell of flesh-coloured armour. It makes sense: Alana has too much control; she is constantly overthinking, narrating a stream of consciousness to her audience, rarely just in the moment. Libby Rodliffe and Joe Eyre frame and support Larson, slickly playing the other characters in Alana’s story, most notably her overbearing but well meaning mother and a string of confused boyfriends.
As well-meaning as the play is, however, its denouement feels awkwardly realised by Lynn. There is an implication that Alana’s eventual self-discovery is triggered by her relationship with an older man. It’s a plot point which sits strangely with the play’s ultimate message of self-discovery and needs more unpacking. Despite this however, Skin a Cat still feels absolutely vital, the type of play I needed to see when I was 15.