Dramatizing the effects of public library closings doesn’t sound like the most engaging of topics, but playwright Clara Brennan weaves a beautiful story about the importance of seeing the people behind numbers and statistics.
Amy (Emily Johnson), a teenager in South London, suffers from the kind of directionless frustration that so often leads to “social exclusion”—a fancy way of implying a prospectless life. After getting kicked out of her home, she tries to rent a room from an older woman who has more than her fair share of guts as well as a house full of books stolen from closed libraries. They form a friendship as Amy is given the understanding and camaraderie she so desperately needs, and as the older woman fades away she teaches Amy how to shine brighter.
SPINE is a monologue, and that seems to be the perfect format for giving a voice to someone who doesn’t usually get heard. The writing is smart, passionate and true to the characters, depicting Amy as an intelligent and curious young woman whose talents haven’t been nurtured. The story is personal, but the motives are deeply political – showing the disdain for knowledge, the lack of compassion, and the careless disregard of people based on their background that the left (represented by the old lady’s character) sees in the actions of the current British government. But, it’s also a story about coming of age, a friendship, and the joy of books.
Emily Johnson’s performance has a great balance of vulnerability, spunk and recklessness that creates a multifaceted character who nevertheless feels profoundly grounded in reality. Her character is many things, and she has many paths before her – just like most frustrated teenagers, underprivileged or not. And the implication is that she can be great things with a little help and encouragement – neither one of which SPINE seems to think is forthcoming from the Tory government.
An intimate, engaging and painfully current story, SPINE, just like its protagonist, is many things and well worth listening to. [The Drake, 1512 Spruce Street] February 17-March 6, 2016; inisnuatheatre.org.