A good offence

14 April 2017

Thick Skin goes beyond just comedy to make pertinent points on social issues, says Florence Bell


Thick Skin is a realistic comedy.

It’s got a bleak ending. Which a lot of Shakespearean comedies could do with because the very nature of comedy means someone is going to get hurt. If nothing bad happens we have nothing to laugh at.

Not all the comedy is razor-sharp: the humour about living in London doesn’t transcend above “lol don’t make eye contact on the Tube” and “we can’t afford rent haha”.

The play’s self-reflective qualities in considering the confessional nature of stand-up make it feel droll. Most of the jokes are funny but extremely offensive jokes are deliberately included too. One character, Jess, performs a stand-up routine consisting of racial stereotypes. The play’s exploration of the ways we use depreciative humour in relation to our self-esteem results in Jess claiming that she learns to make fun of herself instead of other people. This is somewhat true, but no one’s ever perfect: she still describes a pan-national all you can eat buffet as four gap years of culture in one meal.

Very few of the characters in this play are non-problematic. Pete is unable to see beyond gender and race, yet feels too uncomfortable to vocalise this. Oli might be able to openly recognise that people see the world in terms of skin but he makes sweeping generalisations: “girls are fucking weird mate”.

In fact, the only unproblematic character is Naomi. While other characters regularly use mics to speak to the audience, with a spotlight on them, stand-up style, we only hear Naomi sing into a mic until the end, when we finally hear her speak. She’s been treated horribly by Pete. In a play about struggling artists, he isn’t interested in her art at all, only in the colour of her skin. Hearing her voice is a kind of catharsis. The play ends on a note of calm.

Even though this is a comedy it raises really serious issues about race. At the opening, Oli struggles to get a spotlight on him. He has to tap the mic. Pete doesn’t. This neat visualisation of racial issues that are still prevalent today is what makes Thick Skin so good. 


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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato