Rosa Postlethwaite’s one-woman show Composed is a spiky, fractured, insinuating thing. An examination of both what it is to work in theatre and to be in the audience – and the seen and unseen forces that shape those experiences – it addresses everything from corporate sponsorship of the arts to sexual harassment, taking in ‘audience etiquette’ and institutional power dynamics on the way.
Postlethwaite’s ‘person in a red suit’ is the master of ceremonies for a show we never see. From the slyly witty opening – when she thanks ‘sponsors’ that include everyone from the student loans company to the Queen, turning what is usually a backslapping exercise into a critique of capitalism and colonialism – she skewers the social conventions we encounter in and out of the theatre.
A hand-rubbing thought exercise becomes a demonstration of how we gradually accept the country’s increasing hostility to others; there will be few women not grimly familiar with the sinister escalation of the “why did you come here if you don’t want to talk to anyone?” scene, where refusing a drink becomes a dangerous rejection.
It’s a sparse, stripped-back show with few props, fully captioned and-audio described, which Postlethwaite integrates into the piece, without ever making it gimmicky.
While at times it feels like a series of sketches, Composed is held together by Postlethwaite’s subtly spellbinding performance – both raw and contained, someone slowly fracturing under the pressure of their assumed official persona. The result is a compact gem of a show, both original and unsettling.