Vera Elizabeth Shrimp discovers she has a very special gift, one that she knows can fix all that is broken. The Soaking of Vera Shrimp is a heartfelt solo show by Alison Carr, performed by Tessa Parr. The play was awarded the 2013 Live Theatre/The Empty Space Bursary Award for innovative artists exploring different ways in which text and performance can be brought together. I can see why.
This play is wonderful.
Carr has crafted a brilliant script. Vera Shrimp is composed like a duet; Vera’s science project in harmony with her own story of loss and awakening. In many ways, they are one in the same, but they each have their own subtle style that gives the play an undulating motion between the present and the past. Carr has succeeded in capturing the essence of a young and fertile imagination. Vera turned inwards and away from the world that is shunning her; alone, she discovers herself to be a proper poet and capable of magic. Now, Vera has found her spark again and is ready to show the world who and what she is. The real genius of this script lies with Carr’s ability to write with a child-like wonder; nothing is ever over-wrought or contrived and the entire show is playful and wide-eyed.
However, there is a darkness behind Vera’s hopefulness that is very moving and masterfully integrated. The story is ultimately tragic, however strong and optimistic our heroine is, and there is a strange and unsettling kind of denial that become more apparent as the play goes on. It makes Vera terribly vulnerable. As a result, the audience falls in love with Vera; a parental love or perhaps the love between one friend and another; we are invited to step in and fill the gaps left in Vera’s life and it’s touching and immersive. When the play is funny, the humour is perfectly pitched and delivered expertly; I got the impression there’s a freedom in the script that allows the performer to read and connect with the room; it made the whole piece more immediate and resounding. Once or twice, the script felt a little samey – little stalls in the story – but this was very seldom the case and never a real problem.
The set was perfect; dressed up like a science-fair stall. We come in to Vera already preparing her project for us; busy with the final details. Part of what is touching about Vera Shrimp is how hard Vera has worked on her presentation; how much sheer effort she has poured into it and why. The set makes sure this dedication is understood fully. Vera needs everything to be perfect, nothing could be more important; it’s painfully endearing.
Tessa Parr is an impeccable performer. A true talent. She captures the beauty of a child’s heart as it breaks and mends in front of us with a staggering finesse. Parr has a warmth and fragility that couldn’t be more captivating; she never slips and commands our undivided attention effortlessly. She lets us in on the inner workings of Vera, which speaks as clearly as the words themselves. Without this natural openness, the play wouldn’t be half of what it is. Watching Parr’s eyes well up during the few breaks in her hopeful self-control is heart-wrenching. You believe in everything she does.
The Soaking of Vera Shrimp is sad and magical. One that plucks at the heart-stings and sparks the imagination, telling an inventive and original story about how one extraordinary girl copes with grief. The magic in this story is band-new and all disbelief was suspended. I have rarely been made to feel so sympathetic and protective over a character as I was for Vera Elizabeth Shrimp, it was incredibly satisfying and it leaves with you afterwards.
A gem of the Fringe.
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