Psychodermabrasion gets under the skin. Like, really under the skin. Appearing this week at Jacksons Lane – a gem of a venue just up the Northern Line – it is a pitch black peek into the grimness of youth with songs, slapstick and more than the occasional frippery. The play is a one-man show and that one man is Matthew Floyd Jones, perhaps better known for his more flamboyant alter ego, Mannish.
As Jennifer Aniston was wont to say, pay attention: here comes the science bit. Dermabrasion refers to a skin-resurfacing procedure that uses a rapidly rotating device to sand the outer layers of skin. It principally deals with facial blemishes like teenage acne but here it is used as a visual and temporal metaphor for aspects of Jones’ younger years.
We initially meet our hero after he has moved out of his shared flat and back in with his parents. Just turning 28, Jones sits in his bedroom mulling his teenage past in painfully funny detail. The obligatory diary is discovered and its entries are pored over and read aloud while astrology and an inner-lit WC illuminate more of Jones’ youthful psyche.
For a decent chunk of the play, he appears within a body-covering costume evoking Jones’ award-winning Ruthless character. As inferred by title, he peels off layers of clothing, revealing more of his physical and inner self in tandem. The influence of collaborator and lipsyncher extraordinaire Dickie Beau (of Blackouts fame) can be seen in a number of ways, not least in how Jones emotes deep emotional states without the use of facial expressions or the central character’s own voice.
As might be expected, even when rendered mute by his outfit, cabaret singer Jones finds a way to add his voice to the show in more ways than one. His Noel Coward-like songs provide witty relief to some of the darker passages and at one point he pops up as a trio of rather funny talking heads expounding on facial scarring.
Throughout, messages are seen being sent to Jones from a motley crew of Grindr contacts with names like “Beefy Top”, “Alpha Dick” and “Power Bttm”. Their increasing crudity combined with the downbeat tones elsewhere in Psychodermabrasion cut to the nub of what real teenage life is all about: incessant horniness and encompassing despair that feed off each other and drive us totally doolally. How anyone survives that period sane is a minor miracle.
Klare Wilkinson’s set design is one of the finer elements here. Although lightly used, the illuminated loo adds a surreal touch while having the bedroom blinds double as a mobile phone screen is a smart move which pays dividends. Less is definitely more here – there’s just enough furniture to visually set the scene and give Jones room to manoeuvre though it is remarkably clutter-free for a male boudoir.
There are many ideas thrown into Psychodermabrasion, not all of which hit their intended mark or resemble more than shallow symbolism. The talking heads are both pertinent and entertaining, while the astrological ramblings less so. The play’s strength lies in its bang-on excoriation of emerging youth, all pimples and hormones and not much else. The acne may fade and the lust may mellow but those defining years are always worth a revisit if only to remind ourselves just how far we’ve all come since then. Well, some of us.
Psychodermabrasion. Performed by Matthew Floyd Jones. Jackson’s Lane, 269A Archway Road, London N6 5AA. Until 14 February. £14.95 (£12.95 concessions). www.jacksonslane.org.uk