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Photo by Allan Mackey.

Fringe Review: Underneath It All

By David Currie on June 14, 2017

Photo by Allan Mackey.

Photo by Allan Mackey.

Underneath It All
by Hannah Gibson-Fraser & Jodi Morden
PrettyUgly Theatre

60 min / Drama / Mature

“I didn’t want a tragic life” is just one of the refrains in this surrealist fugue by Hannah Gibson-Fraser and Jodi Morden. Trauma is in the zeitgeist this year. Underneath It All seeks to explore the experience of trauma rather than a narrative about trauma.

Painting the story of one woman’s abuse, victimization, and emotional fracturing – Underneath It All takes a non-narrative, non-linear approach to trauma that succeeds at mirroring the effects of trauma on memory and mind. The show has a surprising sensitivity, and great insight into this phenomenon that everybody seems to be talking about. With a beautiful opening, the show invites the audience into the mind of its nameless protagonist played by Gibson-Fraser. Through her repetition, she brings us deeper into her trauma, her memories, and her experiences. The repetition underscores the cycles of abuse which are all too likely with trauma victims.

Jodi Morden’s character acts as a refrain. As Gibson-Fraser scours her life over and over trying to understand what has been done to her, Morden sometimes echoes, sometimes underscores, and sometimes preempts Gibson-Fraser’s recollections. The great misdirect of Underneath It All occurs early on when Morden is presented as a therapist only later to be revealed as a fractured state within Gibson-Fraser’s ego. This play treats its subject matter with great sensitivity and care, never minimizing the experience of trauma and using the tools of theatre to augment our understanding.

The lighting and sounds design of this show is beautiful, highlighting shifts in mood and memory as experienced by the character. The directing work highlights the intangibility of mental anguish while remaining reserved and withdrawn. Nothing about this show is two-dimensional – even the use of metaphors have a multifaceted meanings that grow the audience’s understanding of trauma throughout the show. Underneath It All is not at all bombastic but rather is a scream in a jar channeled through the audience. This is a powerful and unexpected production in this year’s festival.

The implementation of the fugue form as a way of delving deeper and deeper into trauma is one of the most inspired choices I have seen in sometime.


Underneath It All by Hannah Gibson-Fraser and Jodi Morden is playing at Studio Léonard-Beaulne (135 Séraphin-Marion) until Saturday June 17, 2017. Tickets cost $12 online and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the show schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.