Review: Ripped, at Underbelly, Cowgate – Belly Laugh

Ripped shines a sensitive, yet aptly stark, light onto the often shame-ridden experience of male rape and sexual abuse.  This is an ambitious, and highly valuable addition to the discourse on male mental health which has permeated this year’s Fringe offerings.


Ripped is a tragedy of two parts. The first being the rape itself, the second, and no less egregious, being the gradual destruction of the victim, ‘Jack’s’ soul. ‘Jack’ itself is a new name, an invention intended to herald a brighter, stronger future for the man we will follow in his attempts to forge a more masculine, invulnerable self.

Weakness, be it old friendships, or a puny body, will be cast aside in search of strength in the shape of the company of ‘strong’ men, or a newly sculpted body. Jack is a man in search of the poison to make him stronger, and he most certainly finds it.

Images by Raith Photography

Writer, and performer, Alex Gwyther, has created rather the tour de force in my opinion. As Jack, he is absolutely believable, a complex and delicate soul, falling into darkness. The other characters he creates are each living, breathing voices. The writing itself is brave, avoiding simpler appeals to sympathy, in favour of truth. The world of toxic masculinity that the show paints is neither sensational, nor forced. The pit of self-loathing laid at Jack’s feet is all too terribly real.

Alex even finds humour in Jack’s blighted life. Bittersweet, yes, but necessarily adding the comedy which so often plays the obverse side to our sufferings.

Gwyther doesn’t pretend to have any easy answers, but still neatly takes a scalpel to the gender, and societal stereotypes which continually compound Jack’s deepening personal crisis. At the very least, ‘Ripped’ is an excellent exposé of precisely how to sabotage any possible healing process. There are, however, moments of plotting which do feel rather too tidy, and a little at odds with the gritty reality on offer.

Sound, and lighting are both used to excellent effect, helping to move the story both from scene to scene, and back and forth through Jack’s timeline. The whole production is marked with crisp professionalism, and is a fine testament to the work of director Max Lindsay.

This play would make a singularly fine and thought-refining addition to any Fringe-goer’s experience.

You can catch Ripped at at Underbelly, Cowgate – Belly Laugh from until the 25th August, at 13:00. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise” – Les Misérables

We are living in a difficult time, but it will pass, and I look forward to enjoying the theatre with you when it does. Stay safe, and remember to sing La Vie Bohème to yourself every time you wash your hands. Start to finish, please.

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