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  • Chris O'Rourke


Unhooked by Ella Skolimowski. Image uncredited.


Though full of huge ambition, it’s not always clear what Unhooked aspires towards. Ella Skolimowski’s one woman, dark comedy being light on both darkness and comedy. Skolimowski’s ready made play about a recovering love addict saying little about love or addiction. The former unconvincingly conflated with sex which is talked about like a Victorian embarrassment. Meanwhile the character Ella speaks directly to the audience about her love and sex addiction support group, SLAAG. An abuse survivor in recovery, Ella speaks of all the things she’s not supposed to speak of and does all the things she’s not supposed to do. Including dating Fionn, her second best match on a dating app, from whom she conceals her detached retina behind an eye patch. A parting gift from her former boyfriend whose name she’s changed to protect the guilty. Throw in half sketched supporting characters, various religious motifs, and a Lolita like innocence with sunglasses to match and Unhooked serves up an ambitious exercise. One blinded by its own ambitions, thereby softening the body blow it attempts to land.

Seen in preview, it’s often hard to connect with Ella who offers reflections retold rather than a character encountered. Skolimowski’s slice of storytelling theatre being one in which Ella is concealed behind layers of unawareness. Not so much performing her life as performing a performance of her life. Her aloof, apologetic tone often grating, her difficulties sounding trivial. Like its Goth styled, opening image with its Pre-Raphaelite overtones things are never quite what they seem. Yet revelations prove not quite as impactful when the truth comes out. Skolimowski’s good girl making bad decisions offering some sharp observations yet never quite making her case. The body as a site for trauma curiously framed and never fully explored, relying on slim visuals to allude to it. Director and dramaturg Anna Simpson again struggling with the one person format. Serving up trudgingly paced, compositionally weak staging redeemed by the occasional visual intrigue, often undone by an overeager light design left unchecked.

Performatively, Skolimowski has a magnetic presence, imbuing Ella with a calm, unsure authority. Ella's story might be dramatically and structurally weak, with its main event told in hindsight, but its exploration of abuse with its unfounded jealousies and victim blaming skirts away from a tidy co-dependency interpretation towards a braver submissive/dominant dynamic. Where relationships are like S&M without a safe word. Where insecurities allow lies to pass as truths and facts be selectively filtered. Where violent histories are doomed to repeat for the victim feeling responsible and inviting history back in. Lending something terrifying to Ella remaining bliss-lessly unredeemed for never quite coming to grips with the truth. Unhooked another brave play with an important message. Even if, as is often the case, the telling doesn’t quite do itself, or its message justice.

Unhooked by Ella Skolimowski runs at Smock Alley Theatre until April 6.

For more information visit Smock Alley Theatre.


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