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Gracie review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘a brave performance’

Carla Langley in Gracie at the Finborough Theatre, London

Over the course of Joan MacLeod’s Gracie, we see the entire early life of a girl raised in a community inspired by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Making its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre, MacLeod’s one-woman places the petty victories and indignities of childhood, sketched with balance and warmth, against a disturbing backdrop, just managing to avoid sensationalism.

Carla Langley is brilliant as Gracie, effortlessly childish yet becomes less so before our eyes: her evolution is so natural, it’s almost as if her face itself has changed.

Some of MacLeod’s vignettes describe significant days for Gracie, like her family’s move to Canada for her mother to become a man’s 17th wife, other moments feel half-remembered, like her friend swimming a river or strangers taking pictures of the alien-looking children on an ice cream trip.

In a quaint pink smock, shapeless white leggings and mucky trainers, Langley takes hold of the audience’s attention with sticky hands. The bare podium of Bex Kemp’s set reinforces Gracie’s small stature as she attempts to take care of her endlessly growing family.

While Gemma Aked-Priestley’s production is largely smooth, the sound and lighting remain merely serviceable, unambitious by the Finborough’s standards: opportunities to better support Langley’s clear and brave performance here are passed up. It results in a rather unvaried tone throughout, though Gracie herself isn’t held back.

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Carla Langley excels in a one-woman show about an unusual childhood