- Stewart Pringle
ONE OF THE BEST NEW PLAYS OF 2016
- Natasha Tripney
2018 UK TOUR
Crikey. This is good. Skin A Cat is an aggressively honest, often hilarious, sometimes shocking look at sex. ... Sometimes there is a play written that you have to take a moment with, to judge as theatrical perfection. This is Skin A Cat, with brilliant work from writer Isley Lynn. Bold, compelling and relevant, her script, with a note telling us this is "unashamedly autobiographical", feels profoundly of-the-moment. It is stingingly funny, with several moments that ring so true to my experience of growing up that it was unnerving. Sex is hard, and art, culture and society rarely reflect this. This central truth gives the writing its brilliance, with the production built around it enhancing its deeply human story. ... As brazenly honest as Lynn's script is, it is enhanced by an outstanding Lydia Larson. Alana is brisk, unapproachable, warm, friendly, exposed, closed off; a series of juxtapositions as we all are and Larson is never less than fantastic here. ... Skin A Cat is as brutal as it is necessary, an 80 minute heart-breaking, life-affirming, nerve-shredding drama. I feel this play needs the widest, largest platform for audiences to see it, as it exposes a side of sex rarely portrayed. For Lynn's writing and Larson's performance, this a production you have to seek out. The play travels to the Edinburgh Fringe in a month and would be a deserved breakout hit there. - Russell Bailey
Every individual would be instantly struck by the power of Lynn’s dialogue, such is her understanding of real problems and real-life language ... The kind of side-splitting laughter that brings tears to the eyes. The kind of belly laughter that has us gasping for breath. The kind of infectious laughter that bellows through the production, leaving emotionally exhausted spectators in its wake. Because as well as intense, purposeful and poignant, Lynn’s writing is also very, very funny. It’s that precisely balanced. But it’s not enough to have a well-written piece of comedy. Skin A Cat requires an expert actor who can judge the room and deliver her part with microscopic precision. Enter Larson. She speaks quickly, but her stream of consciousness is so well phrased and nuanced that every inflection is picked up on, every tiny detail of Lynn’s complex script is given the emphasis it deserves ... Skin A Cat is a play about a manageable condition. It’s a play about the world starting, not ending. It’s laughter and sorrow wrapped up in the same set of tears. And it’s a pivotal piece of contemporary theatre. - Daniel Perks
Coming to the Edinburgh Fringe after opening in London, Isley Lynn’s witty, tender play Skin a Cat is the story of a body that rebels against its owner. Alana has vaginismus, a condition that makes any kind of vaginal penetration almost impossible, but both she and her male partners are determined to overcome it. Pretty much since its beginnings, people have been keen to paint the Fringe as a home of fevered wall-to-wall nudity, but what’s impressive about this play is how its awkward, vivid sex scenes rely on less intimate body parts: a fist stands in for a penis, enmeshed fingers for a vulva. It’s both effective and fitting for a performance that focuses on Alana’s psychological distress and recovery, rather than the physical realities of her body.
- Alice Saville
Blood, bodies and boyfriends: ‘Skin A Cat’ is a coming-of-age play exploring the complexities of female sexuality and the social stigmas surrounding vaginismus. The writing is subtle and evocative, taking us on an intimate journey through Alana’s life and her relationship with men. From tampon anxieties to seductive olive eating, this piece is funny, heartwarming and painfully relatable, as writer Isley Lynn moves us from moments of clumsy innocence to intense emotion within seconds. The direction is slick and fast-paced with boldly choreographed, abstract sex scenes, while skilful multi-rolling from two other actors is particularly effective in depicting Alana’s world. - Ella Dorman-Gajic
Tenderly funny yet unafraid to venture into the darker corners of loneliness, Skin a Cat is a quiet revelation in its depiction of our society's obsession with penetration and its pathologising of alternative forms of sexual intimacy. When the play begins, the audience is made to believe that there is only one happy ending available to Alana, and Skin a Cat's radical subversion of this expectation is a glorious, hopeful and eye-opening experience. - Deborah Chu
Although first performed 2016, the honesty with which Skin a Cat discusses problems that we girls hide even from our best friends is the biggest step forward I’ve seen this August. ... And although at the beginning we believe there is only one happy ending for Alana – a cure for vaginismus needs to be found – the jewel of the show is the ending, which embraces the differences in sexual experiences. Finally, it only matters whether the people involved enjoy the act – not what the society thinks of it. ... Shows like Skin a Cat are why Fringe festivals exist. ... It’s a mind-opener, a conversation-opener – and, in many respects, a necessity. - Žad Novak
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 ... absolutely vital, the type of play I needed to see when I was 15. - Ava Wong Davies
It might sound rather niche, targeted at an exclusively young female-bodied audience, but that’s not the case at all – in the performance I saw there were audience members of all ages and backgrounds clearly enjoying the show. The strength of Skin A Cat is its ability to make the story of one girl’s experience of Vaginismus become something we can all relate to – the struggle for self-acceptance and self determination.
- Erin Hutching
The Nerdy Notebook
Wildly funny, incredibly filthy … even though vaginismus is a very real condition, Lynn’s play is about one condition, but our wider feelings of sexual shame. … Lynn has written a powerful play that bares all, without straying into shock tactics. The very act of sitting and laughing and sharing those moments of recognition with the audience is a powerful moment.
It manages to be both intensely personal, while delivering a universal message about the importance of being open about sex … Painfully honest and incredibly witty, Skin A Cat is a brilliant show about one woman’s journey to understand and accept herself.
British Theatre Guide
The story-telling is fluent and relatable throughout, despite the highly specific nature of Alana’s problem. While the focus of Skin A Cat is this particular issue, this is not an “issues” play; Lynn has no axe to grind, other than to affirm that it is possible to progress from despair to self-acceptance and beyond, and she does so in a highly entertaining manner. And, yes, I learned a lot. - Othniel Smith
This is really hard for me.
This is what I've spent the last - a long time...
This is basically my worst nightmare.
But I'm going to try.
Because I think it's a good idea.
So I'll just -? Shall I?
I'm going to try and tell you everything.
I'm going to try.
Every teenager thinks they're the only one not having sex. But for Alana, it may well be true. But every time she gets close to doing it something just seems to get in the way... Soon she can't help wondering: Is it this tricky for everyone else? Because no one ever said it was going to be this complicated.
With a kaleidoscope of off-kilter characters, Skin A Cat follows Alana on an awkward sexual odyssey: from getting her first period at nine years old and freaking out her frantic mother, to watching bad porn at a house party with her best friend's boyfriend, to a painful examination by an overly cheery gynaecologist - all in the pursuit of losing her virginity and finally becoming a woman. Whatever that means...
"Funny and heart-breaking ... Explores a young woman’s struggle with her sexuality with excruciating detail, daring to say the unsayable. Brimming with great scenes and brilliantly complex characters, this is a powerful and transgressive play." - Leo Butler
"Where stories about sexual liberation go from 0 to 10 really quickly, where characters are either one extreme or its other, Isley's play is rare: A human story firmly in the middle, that presents a physical, detailed, touching, and entirely new light on the female sexual organ and the complexities of having one." - Inua Ellams
Views From The Gods
The Peg Review
Love London Love Culture
London City Nights
London Theatre 1
West End Wilma
Live Theatre UK
Last Minute Theatre Tickets
Ginger Wigs and Strolling Man
Photos by Richard Lakos and David Monteith-Hodge
The Stage, Q&A with Isley Lynn
The Stage, This week's best theatre shows (October 11)
The Stage, Natasha Tripney’s theatre picks (February 3)
The Stage, Our critics pick the shows to look out for this autumn
The Stage, How the Vault Festival is thriving beneath London’s streets
The Upcoming, An interview with playwright Isley Lynn
Break A Leg, Spotlight On… Writer of Skin A Cat, Isley Lynn
Female Arts, Interview - Isley Lynn
The Arts Shelf, Isley Lynn’s ‘Skin A Cat’ opens The Bunker’s exciting inaugural season
The Play's The Thing, Interview: Isley Lynn on Skin a Cat
Straylight, Backstage with Isley Lynn:
What's On Stage, What's In My Dressing Room - Lydia Larson
This Week London, Blythe Stewart - Skin A Cat
This endearing drama about a woman who has vaginismus – played brilliantly by Lydia Larson – suggests its writer, Isley Lynn, could be rising star … Beginning with Alana’s first period and quickly moving on to to teenage fumblings, this initially looks as if it’s just another coming-of-age tale, albeit one written with considerable charm and a laugh-out-loud comic edge. But there is something more interesting lurking in this brave, largely autobiographical story as it becomes clear that Alana has vaginismus, a common but rarely talked about psychosexual disorder in which the muscles spasm during penetrative sex. The piece has an endearing unfettered honesty and it benefits enormously from a brilliantly judged, personable central performance from Lydia Larson, who ensures that Alana’s sexual odyssey always keeps the attention. Even better, the play swerves unexpectedly and avoids becoming an issue piece, becoming an altogether more interesting meditation on difference and the crushing pressure to be what is considered normal in a highly sexualised culture. - Lyn Gardner
Verdict: Frank, fresh, funny and disarmingly candid play about one woman’s sexual identity
Isley Lynn’s frank and funny new play Skin a Cat explores how upsetting and isolating it can be when something which gives most people pleasure is a source of pain and anxiety ... Lynn’s play is eloquent and insightful about the pressures people place on themselves, not just to have lost their virginity by a certain age, but also to conform in other ways when it comes to sexual experience. Frequently hilarious, it’s also refreshingly honest and open in its discussion of menstruation, masturbation, oral and anal sex, and might well be the smartest, sharpest piece about female sexual identity since Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag ... there’s something so rousing and refreshing about the whole production; this is bold and genuinely exciting new writing
- Natasha Tripney
Beyond its silly and plentiful humour is a genuinely moving and effortlessly charming production … Lynn deliberately blurs the line between the clinical and the erotic … Wise and educational and funny, it really hits the spot. - Tim Bano
A Younger Theatre
Skin A Cat should be compulsory viewing for anyone under 25. Scratch that, it should be compulsory viewing for everyone. A hysterically funny, warm-hearted, autobiographical three-hander about one girl’s struggle to understand her own body, Isley Lynn’s play educates as much as it entertains. … Lynn’s dialogue plots a precarious path between squeamishness and solemnity, embracing a no-frills frankness that provides a freedom to both laugh and learn. Skin A Cat is amusing and arresting for the same reason: it is fundamentally honest, managing to be piercingly emotionally articulate without saying all that much at all. Few plays capture the excitement and the frustration of blossoming teenage sexuality so accurately. … It’s modest, exquisite theatre. But a regulation plea for openness, honesty and patience in sex is not the only undercurrent of Lynn’s play. In its refusal to allow a conventional resolution, and instead emphasising the importance of enjoying life on one’s own terms, of embracing the psychological nuances and biological quirks that make us all human, Skin A Cat transcends its cliché. … a stylish, sympathetic staging of some seriously important new writing.
- Fergus Morgan
Watching Isley Lynn’s funny and insightful Skin a Cat, it’s striking how few about the female experience come readily to mind, let alone those which speak in frank, balanced and intimate terms about women’s sexuality … Alana is one of those rare well-written female characters whose inner pain is clearly communicated to the audience, despite it being carefully concealed to those around her in the world of the play … Skin a Cat walks the fine line between the personal and the puerile with ease. It’s confessional but not campaigning, whilst doing much to illuminate a little-known and little understood condition. In fact, it’s much more of a plea for acceptance and recognition that in our sexuality – as with the rest of our existence – we are not all the same. … Skin a Cat is a smart, fun and thought-provoking rummage around a rarely tackled subject.
- Sally Hales
The Play's The Thing
Refreshingly frank, honest writing. Theatre (and Western culture) doesn’t shy away from heteronormative sex, but a main character that hates it due to a psychosexual disorder is most rare indeed. ... Lynn’s gift for dialogue and detailed characters within a cleverly framed style shines here, and is generally well supported by director Blythe Stewart ... Lynn and Stewart use humour delightfully and liberally in both the writing and staging. Sex, attempted sex and orgasms hilariously abound, along with poignancy, tenderness and dogged desperation. It’s a beautiful balance. ... Skin A Cat evokes belly laughs and empathy, nostalgia and wonder. Though it raises awareness of a psychosexual condition, Lynn manages to not make this an “awareness” play. Instead, it’s a story about growing up, loving yourself and making friends with your body’s quirks. Excellent writing and committed performances in Skin A Cat prove Isley Lynn and the cast are ones to watch.
- Laura Kressly
Surprisingly, given this sensitive subject matter, Skin a Cat is an uproariously funny story about one woman’s search for sexual fulfilment ... Lynn’s script is perfectly nuanced, sweeping from hilarious physical comedy that reminds how undignified and silly sex can be (particularly if you’re a woman) to more seriously and poignant moments as the sweet but confused Alana slowly learns to come to terms with her condition. Larson is innocently charming in this pertinent story which transcends being gratuitous but rather allows the audience to follow and share in a traumatic but also uplifting story of sexual discovery against the odds. - Lettie Mckie
While the play is very frank in its discussion and depiction of sex, it is never 'titillating' and always emotionally truthful. While scanning the audience at certain points, it was good to see both men and women laugh and make noises of recognition as they recalled sex and 'those conversations' as they're really like, rather than how they're depicted on TV or on the movies. It is this attention to detail in her characters and their world that makes her writing so rich and her characters so easy to identify with. I'm hesitant to make comparisons to other works of 'art' or media, but if I had to, in terms of tone and candour, then Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, Skins, Teeth, Mark O'Brien's The Sessions and Judy Blume's canon springs to mind. - Michael Davis
Views From The Gods
There's an overwhelming sense of honesty throughout the dialogue, with visceral, almost brutal and so very relatable descriptions ... It's a hugely relatable and refreshingly honest piece which bravely tackles sexual dysfunction with both sensitivity and humour.
Isley Lynn manages what so many fail to do, creating something that is honest and relatable without becoming cliched in her depiction of female sexual experiences. Skin a Cat is hilarious, the humour quick and biting as we move through the protagonist’s life one sexual mishap at a time … wholly uplifting - Molly Lempriere
What's On Stage
Tender, intimate and frank … Lynn's is a campaigning play: one that pushes back against a euphemistic culture and prescriptive sex education. Its kickback against normative notions of sex is a liberating thing. - Matt Trueman
Just Opened London
The play transfers from the VAULT Festival where its sell-out run saw award-winning young playwright Isley Lynn emerge as a shining theatre talent. Approaching the covert subject of sexual discovery and dysfunction with unparalleled relevance, levity and poignance, the narrative boldly recognises a far too neglected topic. … playwright Lynn’s irreverent voice champions collective experience to question the meaning of womanhood. Throughout the play layers of thought are stripped back delving into the psychological indents that make us who we are. Lynn’s writing is witty, sharp and perspicacious
- Charlotte Brohier
Mouthy Women Project
I walked out with the distinct sense that I had just witnessed one of the most honest pieces of art I had ever seen. … Isley’s writing is so honest, vulnerable, sensitive and laugh out loud funny that you can’t help but watch the play and join the main character on a journey of radical self-acceptance. The play is underlined by a bold, comforting, and universal truth: we all have hang ups we need to accept about ourselves, and life gets a hell of a lot easier (and funnier) once you do just that. - Rosie Spinks
Stuff I've Seen
Skin A Cat skilfully avoids the conventional trappings of the sex comedy genre – the nude-tone unsexy underwear and plain duvet bed set, plus the stylised portrayal of sexual sequences means this never tips over into spectacle or squalor. This is not about titillation, humiliation, or tired battle-of-the-sexes gags. This is about humans, and connection. How sexuality doesn’t mean jumping through hoops, but being who you are ... Eventually the world will understand that there are as many sexualities as there are individuals, and we’re starting to see that shift. Plays like this can help push that understanding forward and in the words of Alana, that’s “fucking brilliant”. - Stephanie Gunner
Terrific performances - Richard Lambert
The Peg Review
Sensitive, witty and touching … like nothing you’ve seen before - Charlotte Pegram
Love London Love Culture
A cracker of a play - Emma Clarendon
London City Nights
Strong on kindness, peppered with (refreshingly unflinching) anatomical and sexual detail and pretty goddamn funny to boot … Skin a Cat is definitely the most vagina-y (if I was a twat, I'd say yonic) play I've ever seen - and all credit to it for being so. As well as teaching me about vaginismus (I now realise I have encountered in a past partner and didn't know what it was), there's a casual yet forthright feminism baked into every character interaction and red-faced confession. … Our culture cloaks vaginas in mystery and shame: to the point where our politicians hesitate to even say the word 'tampon'. Plays like this function as a rolling of the eyes and a crucial exhortation to grow the hell up. Recommended.
London Theatre 1
Ninety minutes of theatrical gold dust … I must admit I never thought I’d laugh out loud at an intimate female examination – but laugh out loud I certainly did! … it’s a gem of a play. The writing by Isley Lynn is funny and poignant – sometimes in the same sentence. - Alan Fitter
TOP LONDON SHOWS 2016
West End Wilma
The writer, Isley Lynn, has written a brilliant, thought provoking and funny play. She is definitely a talented writer who, on the evidence of this play, is really going places - David Monteith-Hodge
Live Theatre UK
This is a play that would project positive attitudes in classrooms; a play that should tour around schools nationwide. - Madhia Hussain
With astonishing perception, truthfulness, daring and elegant simplicity in its execution, this drama plunges into the ‘core’ of what it is to be a woman, utterly captivating its audience … the play’s appeal is wider that its immediate content might suggest: it is an exploration of human identity at a very deep level. It is a very brave and clearly written piece - Julian Eaves
Last Minute Theatre Tickets
The show is definitely unforgettable, and I’m happy to say, for ALL the right reasons. Running just short of 1 hour 30 minutes, this exciting piece of new theatre tells a story that isn’t currently being told ... The play is fast-paced, packed with plenty of one-liners and great humour juxtaposed with deep, emotional empowering text that promotes a powerful message about individuality and self-acceptance. The show is a pure joy to watch, Isley Lynn has crafted a piece that is brutally honest, frank and informative. The show looks at the isolating condition of Vaginismus … A serious subject that Lynn has tackled with warmth, comedy, and emotional realness. The condition may be the subject of the play, however, the wider themes and messages are about acceptance, especially of our own bodies, about embracing difference and not being ashamed of pleasure. A message that needs to be heard and should be taught at school. When it comes to our bodies normal isn’t normal - Faye Stockley
Ginger Wigs and Strolling Man
Hilarious yet poignant … This was a really great night of theatre
Isley Lynn’s script perfectly captures the teen angst of sexual awakening, full of laughs that temper the discomfort. … it soars - Rob Warren
The hour and a half flew by, and it was the best play I’ve seen for many months. - Michael Holland
Fairy Powered Productions
The play veers from fantastic physical comedy to heart-breaking despair without warning … Skin A Cat is a great play – sweet, filthy, thought-provoking and very, very funny. This is a very promising start at this exciting new venue. Go and see this play – and take your teenage sons and daughters along – this is the sort of sex education they should be getting in school. - Claire Roderick
This is a 90-minute three-hander which is alternately sad, enlightening and very, very funny. … That a play about sexual embarrassment and confusion should be so comfortable – and even comforting – to watch is down to a combination of the forthright but sensitive writing and a director, Blythe Stewart, who understands that the suggestion of sexuality is more powerful than its explicit portrayal - Chris Abbott
A sharply funny, sad and ambitious look at sexual awakening, and what it means to have a 'normal' sex life. Which, as we all know, doesn't actually mean anything. - Stevie Martin
Amid the laughs, the cringing details and the unbridled honesty, there’s also a lot of sadness just under the surface of this comedy. … Skin a Cat is enjoyable not just because of its refreshing candour, but also because it takes a stand against the robotisation of sexual experience: in world where many young teens get their first ideas about sex from porn, it argues passionately that such images create a picture of the “normal” which is oppressive and inhumane. Instead, Lynn argues that each individual should be allowed, encouraged even, to find their own normal, to discover what works for them. At its best, her play advocates frankness, personalised satisfaction and TLC against the dominance of porn images and social conventions … At its centre is a ragged cry against the worst excesses of a sexualised, but unerotic, culture. - Aleks Sierz
The Culture Trip
Kicking things off with a bang at London’s newest theatre is Isley Lynn’s brutally honest exploration of female anatomy and psychosexual disorder. Oftentimes troubling, but blisteringly funny, Skin a Cat masterfully addresses the trauma, both mental and physical, experienced by its central character, whose parts, try as she might, just don’t seem to work as others’ do. All but resigned to her perpetual state of virginity (vaginally, at any rate) but constantly struggling against the social pressures this entails, this semi-autobiographical tale is a brave, bold, endearing piece of experimental theatre. Standout performances all around make this one of the must-see plays of the moment. - Harriet Clugston
A wonderfully dry, witty and poignant play about a girl who can’t have sex …‘GO SEE THIS!’
- Tara Lepore
ONLINE AUDIENCE RESPONSES
BEHIND THE SCENES
Britomart Productions - Burton Taylor Studio, Feb 2019
Cherwell - review
In the era of sex-positive successes such as the most recent Netflix obsession Sex Education, we might feel as though our yearnings for more diverse narratives about sex have been fully satisfied. Britomart Productions’ performance of Skin a Cat by Isley Lynn proves otherwise … However, the outcome is entirely new, and the production dextrously and humorously articulates all the nuances of a far more complicated sexual awakening than the one we bargained for … Low and West’s production, amidst much hilarity, cuts right through to the most vulnerable of feelings, and asks us to rethink the ways we contort ourselves to fit the simplistic sexual narratives we have been ingesting for so long. - Lucy Mcilgorm
Cherwell - preview
It’s a surprisingly sensitive approach to scriptwriting which takes the audience into account from the start: a script intimately aware that it’s educating many people for the first time … Lynn says the reason it’s since been pigeonholed as a ‘play for women’, for want of a better phrase, is that male stories are seen as universal: narratives in any way seen as other – female-led, minority ethnic, or LGBTQ+ – are still thought to occupy their own secluded niche.
But as both Low and Lynn stress, it’s a narrative which can, and should, be seen by everyone. The final scene I saw – a relentless, breezy epiphany, beautifully handled in all its profanity by Tupper – emphasises this point more than any: it’s about “creating your own metric for your own happiness”. Society is filled with milestones for all of us, things which should seem effortless but so often aren’t: health, marriage, Insta-perfect lives, penetrative sex. There are “entire magazine empires” built around maintaining this status quo. Once you have taken this metric into your own hands, you are able to redefine what it means to be happy on your own terms. And that’s a message for all of us, regardless of gender.
I’m extremely, but pleasantly, surprised to find that Lynn has had zero communication with Britomart Productions despite being heavily involved with all previous productions (including last year’s tour). With her most recent play War of the Worlds also performing in Oxford this week (at the North Wall) – “same style, very different subject matter” – there’s a clear sense of a playwright moving past her success onto bigger and bolder things. At the same time, Britomart Productions’ piece feels self-assured and explorative – a theatre company coming into their own. With typical candor, Lynn sums up her own feelings towards this departure: “Skin a Cat is the most important thing I’ve done in my life, and for the first time it’s not me driving it. So I’m really excited to see how it’s going to go.” With my ticket already booked for this week, so am I.
- Katie Knight