The audience shuffles into a room filled with empty buckets; writer-performer Holly Gallagher sitting behind a small desk with a stack of paper in front of her. She begins by introducing the idea of the level of stress one person can withstand as a bucket, and the causes of stress as water. Some of our buckets are large, some are small, some are full, some are empty.
Gallagher settles herself back at her desk and begins to tell three interwoven stories; characters differentiated by pronouns. He is a new father struggling to take care of a baby and himself; She is a recent graduate disappointed with the post-university reality of low paying jobs and readjusting to life at home; They have recently broken up with their boyfriend, and have just been asked to vacate their friend’s house where they have been crashing for the last few weeks.
The stories unfold aided by Roma Yagnik’s beautifully atmospheric soundtrack, with tension building as you begin to feel the characters’ buckets overflow. Despite their very specific circumstances, each feels so personally touching because they are so ordinary – there is no great tragedy that pushes them to the brink, just small drops of water falling into their buckets until they can’t hold any more.
Punctuating scenes, Gallagher leaves her seat to address the audience directly, asking them to consider their own buckets and, if they are comfortable doing so, to share their own reflections. These introspective vignettes carry the self-reflection through the structured narrative, encouraging empathy with Him, Her and Them on a deeply affecting level.
After the satisfying but open-ended conclusion, Gallagher invites the audience to embrace what they cannot change and to push for what they can. Tensile Strength combines performance and therapy in a healing and thoughtful way, and manages to balance the discussion of mental health with an uplifting narrative in a way that feels completely new.
Holly Gallagher is a theatre maker, director and facilitator based in Thornaby, Teesside interested in new work that speaks about the world we live in today and stimulates an audience’s imagination. Read more about her work here.