Peak Stuff | Minerva Theatre Chichester | Review

Peak Stuff

Minerva Theatre Chichester

Director: Neil Bettles

Commissioned by ThickSkin and Lawrence Batley Theatre
Supported by Shakespeare North Playhouse and Wigan Council

A new play by Billie Collins

Thursday 15 – 17 February 2024

I emerged from the Minerva Theatre, Chichester to drive home, feeling slightly wobbly. No. Not a drop of Prosecco had been indulged in, but something had definitely just happened. My socks had been knocked off. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing many many great theatrical productions, however this one has left me almost speechless. Something a lot of people who know me might find difficult to believe.

I’d not previously come across this remarkable award winning production company, based in Wigan, calling themselves Thickskin, all I know is that I will never forget them, or this play. ThickSkin is a smallish charitable company, producing bold and ambitious theatre, inspiring young, new and diverse audiences and providing a springboard for young talented artists, on the brink of theatrical experimentation.

Manchester based Billie Collins, the play’s incredible writer, toured her debut piece ‘Too Much World at Once’ in early 2023 to great acclaim, and now, only 12 months later, ‘Peak Stuff’ is doing the same. Strap yourselves in theatre-goers!

First off, I need to say that I was not really expecting to find this play to be for me, not sure even that I would enjoy it, however we are often – quite rightly – encouraged to try something different and open our minds just a tad more. We may be surprised. I wasn’t just surprised, I was staggered. Just one performer – playing three different parts, 2 female and one male each with a 10 year age difference between them – on the small dais stage in the round, in the Minerva Theatre, for 75 minutes of continuous monologue, effortlessly switching character, barely taking a breath in-between, can only be described as a towering feat. Such was the talent of Meg Lewis. What an incredible, stupendously gifted actor. From the moment she uttered her first words, not once did she hesitate, lose character, accent or potency. Her immensely powerful effect on the audience was jaw dropping, I simply cannot generate enough superlatives to describe this marvellously talented young performer. How she learned every single word of Billie Collins’ script, let alone delivered them, both faultlessly and with supreme confidence, is beyond me.

I should mention here that on this tiny stage there was a ‘geometrical’ arch behind Ms Lewis, which gave us graphics, text and bits of conversation from unseen parties; a video design using cutting-edge AI technology (a first for live theatre). Behind that, on a platform around 5 feet above the floor was a drummer (the brilliant musician Matthew Churcher), who provided the innovative underscoring throughout the performance. At first, I thought it might prove to be a bit of a distraction, even slightly annoying, however it was so intelligently performed, you almost stopped noticing it, and that’s definitely not a negative, rather a credit to Mr Churcher and his sensitive musicality.

So, I’ve said that Meg Lewis plays 3 disparate, alternating parts, however their stories, and indeed the characters all merge together in the final minutes. Alice, a 15 year old bright schoolgirl, is worried about the climate crisis and feels compelled to do something about it. But she’s determined to think of something epic. Ben is a marketing guy n his 30s, outwardly comfortable in his own skin, but underneath the veneer he’s spent so much time building, is an emergent vulnerability. Charlie is a psychology graduate feeling lost and searching for something – or someone – online, and chooses bizarre options of achieving connections, which get out of control.

Everything gets a little weird with all three, as their virtual worlds become a startling reality, punching them in the face, inevitably inducing thought provoking consequences. Believe me, the final moments of this play will undoubtedly affect you, even change your thinking. Such is its power.

ThickSkin are well know for pushing the boundaries of theatre, and I can honestly say that I am so so glad I opened my mind to this production. I encourage everyone to do the same, and support this wonderfully talented company. They tell us that they are reinventing theatre for the next generation. I’m of a previous generation, witnessing their work today, and I can tell you, ThickSkin, that you have reinvented it for me.

I cannot recommend this play highly enough. Simply unmissable.

75 minutes, no interval.


Reviewer: Gill Ranson