Reviewed by Tracy Hyman
Review Date: 13/11/18

Tensile Strength (or How to Survive at Your Wit’s End)

Holly Gallagher

07/11/18 @ ARC Stockton

How big is your stress bucket? Holly’s play invites us to analyse and reduce our own everyday stresses, no matter what size our stress bucket may be.

I was drawn to Tensile Strength as soon as I read the synopsis. Its theme is something incredibly relevant in modern day society, stress. It’s about trying to work out why so many people feel it, sharing snippets of stories and scenarios, of what happens when our stress buckets get full and then on top of that the cat goes missing. I, myself, wanted to know the solution, and this insightful play reaches out in a cathartic way and reassures us that we are not alone.

“How do you let the stress out your stress bucket?” Holly enquires. For her it is a mint Aero. She explains that it is different for everyone; some people have large buckets and some people have small buckets. The rate at which the bucket fills with stress varies and how easy the bucket is to empty varies.

Holly performs the play beautifully, part story-telling, part audience engagement, but not in an intimidating way. The use of a signer to interpret the story throughout makes the story accessible. When Holly addresses the audience, the lights turn on us, it brings the worries and anxieties in the stories to the fore and helps us relate them to our own lives. They help us to stop, and think, and ‘breathe’.  We learn about three people, their stories intertwined throughout, taking us through their thoughts and feelings, fears and dreams. We meet a young graduate who is struggling to find a ‘proper job’ and still lives at home with her mum, a person who is asked to move out of their friend’s place after outstaying their welcome, a new father dealing with the worries of being a new parent and finding it all a bit much. There is so much expectation.

The different stories are played out right here, in Teesside, where the stories are being told. These people are not distant figures in distant parts of the country, they are us. They are us, our friends, our neighbours.

Light gameshow humour brings the audience into the story. It gives us control of the characters and helps us to analyse them and really get to know them. Multiple choice questions. Questions without answers. Leading us to imagine what each character is going to do. Are they going to do option a), option b), option c), d) all of the above or e) none of the above?

I could write so much about this play. Holly’s writing reminds me of a Radio 4 play, something soothing to listen to, that allows us to unravel the trials and tribulations of everyday life and to make sense of it all during a drive along the A19.  It is both insightful and therapeutic.

Now, where do I find the release for the tap on my stress bucket?