Breathless review – a hoarder of clothes begins dating a minimalist

·2 min read

Sophie looks at her clothes and says she sees them as “versions of me”. Uncertain about her identity, she can cover all bases by filling her wardrobe with options. The more insecure she gets, the more she finds solace in shopping, buying new looks to become a new person.

She is careful with her money, goes to charity shops and clearance sales, and has an eye for tasteful design, but that is not to say she is in control of her habit. As she loads up her bags, she never needs to use the changing rooms; whether the clothes fit is not really the point.

Perhaps this could remain a guilty secret, except all these possible versions of Sophie start to become a problem as she downsizes – and downsizes again. First she moves from her London flat to her parents’ house in Plymouth, then again to a small place of her own. The excess stuff tells her she has crossed the threshold from fashion enthusiast to hoarder, much as hoarding itself crossed the threshold into mental illness when it was reclassified by the World Health Organization in 2018.

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The degree to which this is a problem comes into focus in this solo show by playwright Laura Horton when Sophie starts dating Jo, the first time she has had the courage to go out with a woman after years of relationships with men. She notes with horror that Jo’s place contains little more than three pairs of shoes and an old school tie, a level of minimalism she fears will tear them apart.

One-person plays about overcoming adversity are commonplace on the fringe – this year, you’ll find shows on cancer, dementia and crashing a bike – but actor Madeleine MacMahon performs engagingly as Sophie in a show that is as absorbing as it is sensitive. She plays her as a woman more dented than strengthened by experience, an air of childlike wonder undercut by her endless apologies and lack of confidence. When she plays Jo, her voice drops an octave, emphasising Sophie’s vulnerability as she takes the slow road to recovery.