Poppy blinks out at us from beneath an unkempt fringe. She fidgets, she hunches; she blinks again. Izzy Tennyson is dizzyingly convincing as a teenager, twitchy, intense, and uneasy in her own skin. Set in an all-girls school, Brute – one of the winners of the 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award – has nails embedded in it. Tennyson writes with acuity and humour about the cruelties of school; she pins down with great accuracy the potential for damage, physical and emotional, the competition, the heat and longing of adolescence, the harm girls inflict on themselves and each other. There are some appallingly familiar things in here.
Poppy is not one of the effortlessly popular girls, she is odd, smart but clearly also with some behavioural problems, she is, as she repeatedly tells us, “a troll, a virgin”. Painfully well-observed and often very funny, the writing takes a darker turn as Poppy’s story unfolds. Tennyson’s performance becomes increasingly nervy and febrile, more volatile.
Her monologue is intercut with a series of pre-recorded voices – teachers, doctors, and the like – and these sometimes diffuse the tension in unhelpful ways. And if in the end both play and performance start to feel too extreme, too overblown, this at least feels in some way apt, symptomatic of the strange fever of being a teenager.