The stage opens to Irina working in a busy bar. A man with a plummy Fulham accent grabs her arm over the beer taps, leering in as he tries to pull her closer. A woman accosts her across the noisy crowd, a photo of her son displayed on her phone, ‘How old would you say he is? How old? He’s 16! Why were you serving him last night?’ she demands aggressively. Irina confronts her in her sing-song Geordie accent: the boy used a fake ID, therefore she is not at fault. A heated argument ensues and the woman slaps Irina across the face with a hand that Irina finds is adorned with gold rings on each finger, making the hit all the more painful. Doubled over the toilet, sick from the shock, she gives the audience a wry aside: she is in fact hungover from drinking tequila shots the previous night and the slap has provided a convenient cover for her headache. She is sent home early with an apology from her manager for failing to protect her. 

Irina then introduces us to her photography career: it is in the early, fledgling stages but she has a studio and a good eye. Here, she photographs different men in various stages of undress, and they get into some sexual situations which they consent to - which Irina snaps, which they did not agree to. A gallery in Hackney is potentially interested in her work, but only for exposure - they can’t afford to pay. They like the work but can she push it to be a bit more experimental, extreme, even? She encourages her subjects to follow the brief and the ethical lines start to blur. 


This play is an adaption of Eliza Clark’s debut novel Boy Parts (Finalist in Women’s Prize for Fiction), a comic thriller which was the talk of TikTok over the summer. This production has retained the dark comedy and feminist twist that made it popular, and deserves to mimic the book’s popularity too. 


One thing that might surprise you reading this review is: this is a one-woman show - yes, you read that correctly. All the characters are expertly portrayed by Aimée Kelly, from Irina and her shrill housemate to her housemate’s boyfriend in his gaming cave, all her photography subjects and the people in the busy bar. When I realised this before the show, I was sceptical. Isn’t the point of theatre to see actors interact, and could one actor portray a set of characters sufficiently that you are clear about what is going on all the time? In this case, yes. Because all the male models are portrayed by one actress (who is also 8 months pregnant), it presents an interesting dynamic in which all the men are entirely portrayed through a woman’s gaze. It subverts the centuries-old tradition of the faceless, nameless beautiful woman and presents an artist who objectifies and is sometimes thoughtless and callous, but through the perspective of a woman on the search for the perfect photograph.


This is a brave and thought-provoking play which I’m glad to say is selling out fast. It is quirky, original, funny and unnerving - and brings something that TV cannot: a sense of live-wire tension that hangs in the air as the story escalates. Highly recommend. 


It runs until 25 November.


Review: Caiti Grove   Photo: Joe Twigg