Amy Trigg proves herself a skilled writer and a performer of great emotional range in this bravura one-woman show. Trigg has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, and so does her protagonist, Juno. But from the start, it’s the person, not the chair, that we see. Juno is exuberant, sardonic, flirtatious, warm. She also tried to kill herself – fairly half-heartedly – aged eight, and is periodically brought low by the intrusions of doctors and religious zealots, by sexual setbacks and the betrayals of her body.
Both writing and performance are subtly modulated, preventing the story from ever tipping into simplistic tragedy or “inspiration porn”. Trigg deftly evokes the details of Juno’s life, her world, and the characters in her lively social circle. She has a stand-up comedian’s feel for her audience and can shift the mood in a heartbeat. The play was joint winner of the inaugural Women’s Prize for Playwriting, and its arrival at the Kiln, as one of the first shows in theatreland’s gradual reopening, really does feel like some sort of triumph.
Juno is an Essex girl whose childhood was punctuated by medical interventions. Her parents soothed her fear of MRI scanners by building her a cardboard one and making loud noises while she lay inside it. “It was basically immersive theatre, or an initiation into a low-key cult,” as she puts it, deadpan. Her teenage years, though, are charted through house parties and the quest for a snog or a shag – but not with a latex condom. A latex allergy is one of the many unpleasant possible side effects of spina bifida that Juno recounts. Along with bladder weakness when drunk. And approaches from pervs on dating apps.
On one level, the play is a tribute to friendship, with Juno in a supportive role as often as a supported one for her pals Simon, Mel and Kev. A particularly strong moment comes when the ostensibly perfect Mel reveals her own insecurity in terms that are insensitive, if not downright offensive, to Juno. But they get over it and go back to eating Jammie Dodgers together in the car wash. Because: mates. Sometimes the chumminess feels a little forced, but Trigg always manages to pull the narrative back on course.
It’s simply staged, with Juno cruising around a sparkly box, but director Charlotte Bennett (of co-producers Paines Plough) and lighting and sound designers Guy Hoare and Elena Pena imbue the 90 minutes with dynamism. Mostly, though, it’s powered by Trigg, whose impish face flits from animation to fragility to almost parodic levels of sass. At 28, she’s already well established as an actor. This debut also establishes her as a playwright.
Until 12 June: kilntheatre.com