As part of ‘What We Aren’t Supposed to Talk About,’ an event dedicated to the discussion and challenging of taboos, Gutted explores a condition that is rarely spoken about: Ulcerative Colitis. The play challenges the conventions of traditional drama, not only with its storyline, but also with the presentation of a subject that one would perhaps presume isn’t suited to ‘the theatre.’ A dynamic, funny, and unique piece of drama, director Roe and team certainly deliver their promise of tackling the stigma surrounding disorders such as UC.
Although Gutted is a one-woman play, with Honor Halford Macleod as its lead actress, it would be wrong to call it a monologue. Halford Macleod switches between characters, at times a sympathetic nurse, then a fellow, morphine-dependent patient, or a brash young man trying to win her affection. In fact, she only performs as protagonist Liz once, with pre-recorded narration conveying Liz’s thoughts to the audience for the majority of the play. It’s quirky, with the self-deprecating comments and mortified facial expressions reminiscent of Miranda. These switches between characters (Halford Macleod’s faultless imitation of a wide range of accents should be mentioned here) create an energy that a conventional monologue might have struggled to sustain. Although the transitions were not always perfectly smooth, this was no real barrier to the presentation of the characters, and arguably added to the intentionally awkward tone.
Several times during the performance, Halford Macleod asked the audience to read the parts of her boyfriend and mother. Her slightly desperate pleas fortunately succeeded, although did interrupt the flow of the play at times, with her offers of cake seeming slightly gimmicky. It did, however, convey the challenges presented when trying to have conversations with the people closest to you surrounding such a difficult and life-changing illness, as crowd participation and discussing somebody’s bowel habits are perhaps two of the more mortifying things in life.
The production team should be commended for the creative use of media. Videos and voice-overs added a new dimension to the play, and ensured that the presentation of the topic was equally as innovative as the storyline itself. The set, too, ensured that the intimacy of the play was captured: there was a toilet, yoghurt pots littering the floor, a pair of knickers, and several ‘Get Well Soon’ cards strung up. It was messy in a way that suited the topic perfectly, and only became messier when Halford Macleod shamelessly took off her dress and smeared ketchup over her legs.
This image of a young woman covered in sauce and eating yoghurt on a toilet, struggling to pull a dress over her head and laughing with the audience as she does so, is representative of the play’s greatest achievement: its unflinching presentation of an honest and unsexy femininity. It provides a stage for what most sufferers of disorders considered “gross” keep to the bathroom, but does so without overtly forcing any messages, as plays surrounding stigmas are often in danger of doing.
Gutted is proof that humour is often the best way to tackle taboos, but it is more than just toilet jokes. Personally, as somebody who has struggled with IBS for years, I found the play a relatable and much-needed reflection on a problem that many people might prefer not to hear about.
It should be mentioned that all proceeds from this play will go to GutsUK, a charity carrying out important research for people suffering from conditions such as UC, IBD and Crohns.
Pitch Productions’ Gutted continues Saturday 15th with a matinee performance at 15:30 and an evening performance at 19:30.