Review: ★★★★★ Jess, Online@theSpaceUK

“I don’t need anyone. I don’t need people.” An intimate story of one woman’s struggle with the prospect of infertility, Glass Half Full Theatre’s Jess is moving, heartfelt and incisive in its exploration of what it means to face loss.

Bringing tender heartache and devastating connection to our screens, Glass Half Full Theatre joins the three week Online@theSpaceUK festival to pack an 18 minute emotional punch. Beautifully written by Stephanie Silver, Jess tells the story of its titular character, who faces the possibility of infertility as a result of early menopause. Raw recollections of pain and desperate attempts to regain control are interspersed with cheeky anecdotes and quips that allow light to peek through the cracks in Jess’ life.

From the very beginning, Jess is a production that is unafraid to engage with the uncomfortable. We are placed face to face with the titular character, opening the door to her life as issues surrounding identity, age, mortality, family, self-destruction and fertility are candidly expressed through Kate O’Rourke’s gripping performance. Here, director and editor Michelle Payne skilfully intercuts confessional monologue with clips of a cemetery, showing death as an ever-present weight in Jess’ life. The videos flit to different locations where Jess has been, as well as close-ups of Jess’ face as she smiles, breathes, creates sound effects, and more. Here, the digital nature of the festival in the face of the pandemic is embraced, harnessing the format to provide fleeting and fractured insights into Jess’ mind. 

O’Rourke’s solo performance as Jess is wonderfully textured with wry humour, tenderness, grief and vulnerability. Taking on the heartbreaking wit of Silver’s script, O’Rourke creates a wonderfully nuanced portrayal of what it is to self-destruct in the face of the unfaceable, to try and control the uncontrollable. The distance between the audience and the other side of the screen is broken down as her confessional tone allows her to become a close friend, while the audience become her confidants. The intimacy created under Payne’s expert direction achieves in 18 short minutes what many longer productions cannot: a sense of trust and genuine connection. 

Glass Half Full Theatre strives to create performances that are “unpretentious, real, hard-hitting, and FUN”, and while this performance is less fun than the capital letters may suggest, it certainly succeeds in the first three. There is no veneer of poetry or romanticisation – instead, Jess allows itself to be emotionally ugly through its frank honesty in a way that feels vitally needed. This piece ultimately finds strength in its duality: its sharp innovation highlights moments of softness, it is thoroughly intellectual in its expression of emotion, and even over the distance of the screen, connection is at its core.


Hayley Rae
Hayley Rae

Hayley Rae is a writer, designer and actor who is in her final year of BA Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. She likes to fill her time with all sorts of creative endeavours, and enjoys taking an interdisciplinary approach to her theatrical work. Outside of her work with Upper Circle, Hayley can be found running around as President of Article19 Theatre Company, pouring over academic essays, and writing an eclectic mix of plays, poetry and prose.


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