How Does a Snake Shed its Skin?, Summerhall, comedy review: 'Susanna Hislop is warm-hearted and intelligent'

Edinburgh Festival 2014: Sparkily funny piece reveals darker undercurrents

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The Independent Culture

How do you stage a one-woman show about three different women - Virginia Woolf, Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher - all at the same time? If you're Susanna Hislop, with wit, dexterity and focused intensity.

Directed by Anna Ledwich, How does a Snake... uses diary entries and letters, as well as famous quotes, from her subjects; it may appear chaotic (food and clothing go flying round the room) but is carefully constructed, with Hislop's own tragi-comic diary entries as an 11-year-old stirred in.

Slowly, this sparkily funny piece reveals darker undercurrents: the pressure society (for there is such a thing) places on women and the ways mental illness can manifest.

The personas she adopts may be self-consciously OTT - she broadly sends up actorly pretensions around 'inhabiting a role' - but Hislop is nimble at switching between them.

Her script finds resonances and echoes across their own words, revealing common preoccupations to Monroe, Woolf and Thatcher that, at first, seem unlikely.

With great talent comes great dysfunction, Hislop suggests. But this is a warm-hearted and intelligent attempt to get under the skin of three genuinely iconic women - and to get a little more comfortable in her own.

To 24 August,