Unhooked – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Emma Devlin

Writer: Ella Skolimowski

Director: Anna Simpson

Unhooked is another smart showcase of Ella Skolimowski’s ability to examine a sensitive topic from an interesting perspective with a dose of tongue in cheek humour. In this piece they play Ella, a recovering love addict who has recently come out of an abusive and controlling relationship, and is pushing the boundaries of her sex and love addict support group.

In the Boy’s School, Skolimowski is laid out on a slab waiting for the audience to arrive and settle, shrouded in a white sheet. A disembodied voice tells the story of Shanidar 1, the discovery of the remains of a Neanderthal person who experienced traumatic injury but lived through it, undoubtedly due to the care of his community. His injuries are listed and the recording is cut with a modern police radio report of injuries sustained due to a violent incident. The use of recordings continues throughout the piece, to create different atmospheres, and to voice Ella’s ex, and the lighting design (Susannah Conroy) is similarly taken advantage of to shift the atmosphere or change the scene; Skolimowski manages a great blend of technology and monologue to tell this story.

The audience serves as a sounding board as Ella tries to come to a decision in her life, and the feeling is of being part of a larger support group for Ella’s share. She starts with some of her issues, she takes us through the different people who have already played a part in her recovery journey – her therapist and the members of her actual support group, she touches on the nature and some of the details of her previous relationship, and on her educational upbringing, and goes on to describe a series of dates with a man she met on an app. She seeks advice and direction and someone to tell her what to do, and finds no relief from her therapist, her support group, or her audience of strangers.

Ella is an interesting character; she has self-awareness and a sense of humour, but feels somewhat unfinished. That said, her frustrations with the people around her feel very real; she is a victim of abuse who is trying to recover using the supports available to her but they seem inadequate – an expensive talk therapist who is lacking in compassion, and a support group for sex and love addicts who do not seem to be much further on the recovery journey than Ella herself. Her place within the group is not fully fleshed out either – is love addiction the reason why she was in an abusive relationship, and is it safe that she is being pushed to consider her role in that dynamic as anything other than a victim?

The exploration of community and recovery from trauma is fascinating and the mirroring of Ella’s experience with that of Shanidar 1 is such a clever way to introduce that topic. Skolimowski’s sense of humour is great in this piece as well, with some really good asides that add levity to what is quite a difficult and heavy theme. It does feel like there is a lot more to be explored here, both in the character of Ella and the role of her community in her recovery, but it is certainly a thought-provoking piece and an entertaining way to spend an hour.

Runs Until 6th April 2024.

The Review's Hub Score

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The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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