Yolanda Mercy takes her one-woman show ‘On the Edge of Me’ to The Vaults

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Presented at Vaults Festival as part of Stopgap’s iF Platform, Kate Lovell follows the young Remi down the path of the underemployed graduate in Yolanda Mercy’s On the Edge of Me

Watercolour of a young woman with the words 'on the edge of me' painted in red on her hand.

On the Edge of Me

Google is Remi’s only friend. She consults it several times a day, asking for time-bending directions when she’s already hopelessly late, and anxiously begging for it to diagnose her when she spirals into a painfully relatable Google-search session.

Mercy’s tale of a young graduate spewed out into the harshness of the world from the safety of university is an all-too familiar one. A one-woman piece, Mercy plays the unemployed and then under-employed Remi with a naturalism that is often uncomfortable to witness. Remi’s brash, combative exterior barely masks her chronic lack of confidence. She chats back to her whiny-voiced, hapless Job Centre advisor, but ultimately must submit to trudging to far-flung interviews for uninspiring work.

The piece has a lot of heart, but struggles to find its feet. Remi reveals that she’s an aspiring poet and that poetry is her outlet. There’s a sneaky peak of her performing a poem at the show’s start, but thereafter, no more of Remi’s creative side is allowed exposure. It’s easy to feel sorry for her, but there’s a sparky, creative side that you feel is urging to be released and would lift the show superbly.

A live keyboard accompaniment to Remi’s life gently underscores her journey. Again, there’s a desire for this to be made more integral to Remi’s world. It’s a neat idea to boost the theatricality of such a naturalistic show and used more often could bring an element of the cinematic to the story.

It isn’t long before Remi’s circumstances take their toll and she finds herself in the grip of anxiety and depression. In an unusual move, the audience is asked to vote on whether she should take the medication she has been prescribed, before an abrupt end to Remi’s story and a switch into real-life discussion with the audience about the show’s themes.

Mercy explains that the show always includes the post-show discussion; she feels that it is integral to the piece. The aims of On the Edge of Me are undoubtedly admirable. But the starting point of the discussion seems to fade away fast. There isn’t a debate about psychiatric medication after all. This is a missed opportunity to highlight a meaty topic, which needs discussion.

From Beyond Caring at the National to Boy at the Almeida, themes of negotiating the Kafka-esque world of job seekers and working poorly paid cleaning and shop jobs is a well-trodden path in recent theatre. What is most unique about On the Edge of Me is Mercy’s voice driving the show. The piece would benefit from being bolder in its theatricality and rather than the more plot-driven narrative about what austerity Britain is doing to Remi, she could have delved deeper into who her character is, to give a fresh take on the issues the play raises.

Yolanda Mercy’s new show Quarter Life Crisis is at Ovalhouse, London from Thu 13 Apr – Sat 15 Apr, 7:45pm. Please click on this link to Ovalhouse for further information.