Review: Tensile Strength, ARC Stockton, York Theatre Royal Studio, April 11

HOLLY Gallagher has a bucket, filling with all of life’s complications as easily as water. All of us in fact have a similar metaphorical bucket, Gallagher tells us, only varying in size depending on how much each individual can take.

It’s a stressful concept to give thought to, and stress is the lingua franca of Gallagher’s three characters in Tensile Strength (or How To Survive At Your Wit’s End).

Writer/performer Gallagher sits at a desk, dotted with de-stress items (a small plant, a bottle of water) and when she first turns the page on the show’s script it invokes an exam hall, the paper being opened. The script on stage lends the show the same feel as a rehearsed reading, keeping the tone light and casual. It works well when the house lights go up at intervals, in order for Gallagher to talk directly with her audience.

The audience is invited to step into each character's shoes to fully appreciate the tensions within their narrative, interwoven at points without the characters ever interacting. One steps on the bus as another is sat some rows back, taking in news of his partner going into labour; it’s a bit Love Actually. Stress really is all around us, Hugh Grant might say.

Whereas Gallagher is aiming for a wider view of stress on society, the stories still seem very limited to a set age bracket (20s-30s) with a set income level (none too affluent) in a set small, NorthEastern industrial town. This narrowing lens on the nation to sit around a select few hints at a really interesting concept: it’s unavoidable that these characters fit a Millennial point of view. They’re overtired, overworked and underpaid. They’re old enough to be expected to have decent jobs, stable relationships, children, but can’t afford to buy their own place or even move out from the parental home. All three experience head-on what it’s like to discover your mental health is flailing.

Gallagher seems to be skirting around an issue at large, a polemic against the systems in place to help, and yet this never translates into a rousing call to arms against the society that’s putting us in our nervous place. The show ends leaving one character in a desperate situation still: is this done out of realism or because Gallagher genuinely doesn’t know what comes next?

Louise Jones