Blue Elephant Theatre
Reviewed – 4th July 2018
“in Reice Weathers his lyrical style finds the perfect embodiment and exponent”
Ringo, a nickname imposed by a policeman who couldn’t pronounce his real name, is a displaced individual, living in a cardboard box in a park. The crouched, preoccupied form burbling away to himself on the darkened stage might be a familiar sight to many members of the audience as they enter the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, but his story is one of survival where many close to him have perished. An inner monologue opens out as the play starts and Ringo recalls his harrowing journey from child soldier to refugee, muses philosophically on his mental state and is transported by ecstatic reveries of his childhood, “Listening to voices I will never hear again.” The monologue culminates as he tries to reconnect with the receding shadow of his former self.
The show, by Flugelman Productions, is a partnership with refugee charities and creates a serendipitous link between the talents of an Australian dramatist now in his sixties, and those of this young South London actor. As a writer, Daniel Keene plainly has the ability to put himself in the shoes of others and express their stories through compelling structure and telling phrases. In interviews he professes a liking for poetry, a bare stage, and an underdog. “Boxman” provides all three, but in Reice Weathers his lyrical style finds the perfect embodiment and exponent.
The set by Jo Wright is limited to Ringo’s few belongings. Sounds of traffic and barking dogs (Sound Designer, Beth Duke) and occasional adjustments in the amount of daylight (Lighting Designer, Jess Bernberg) create an unembellished sense of the ordinary which allows Reice Weathers a simple canvas on which to create Ringo’s unnervingly cheerful character, as well as his often comic, sometimes horrifying and always vivid internal world. The characterisation was so convincing that in the Q&A afterwards a representative from the Refugee Council instinctively deferred to the bemused actor on the refugee experience.
The Blue Elephant is a community theatre whose work is far from parochial. In its support for refugees it addresses a pressing global issue, but it is also active in raising money and recruits. Their belief is that, in order to see the refugees as more than a statistic (according to UNHCR, 68 million people were forcibly displaced around the world in 2017), we must first see them as individuals. This short, one-man play is a powerful choice to deliver that objective, as it precisely reveals that inside each of those crouched figures there is a past, a childhood, a faltering trajectory. Edwina Strobl’s understated direction works well to frame the subject, though perhaps too hands-off in the build-up to the ending, but it is the central performance that stands out. Urgent, likeable, sad, powerful, but also original.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Blue Elephant Theatre until 6th July
Previously reviewed at this venue