Reviewed – 5th May 2019
“a talented cast of young female actors delivered a searching show despite a pedestrian script”
Very often when watching a play, it’s possible to condense the evening down to one emotion. For Oneness at the Southwark Playhouse, that emotion was anger. Emmanuel Akwafo and Liliana Tavares present a talented cast of four female actors for an hour of furious physicality, dance and theatre.
Where the play is advertised as a study of femininity and being female, it’s far more about how race in Britain intersects with femininity. Each character surges with unhappiness and frustration with how they’re treated because of their race which is challenging and stimulating, although the recurring themes do begin to drag towards the end. Interestingly, each character plays the same leitmotif throughout: the desire not to be questioned about her race, her femininity and her choices.
While the themes confront and stimulate the audience, the writing really doesn’t. At times, the script felt nearly parodic with painfully sincere cliches littered throughout simply stating how each woman is beautiful and strong. Chants of “A woman’s mind is her strength” and “Inside each woman, there is something beautiful” were supposed to be deep and moving, but came over lazy and straightforward.
Unfortunately, the cliches don’t stop there. If you were playing Fringe Theatre Cliche Bingo there were at least two more: masks and torches on a dark stage. Of course, directors have been using masks for thousands of years and no one has a trademark on a flashlight up against your face, but when these techniques are used the same way in each production they lose the cleverness and intrigue that once defined them.
The four young actors are there to catch the script and safely lower it to the ground. Their physicality, precision and commitment shine through the text bringing energy, inventiveness and shear strength. It’s clear that ‘sincere anger’ was the direction for almost every scene (apart from one), but the talented quartet mostly brought their own interpretations and give much needed subtly and fragility, especially during the physical sections.
The set was deeply confusing with the chain link fencing at each end of the traverse stage and the looming cubist painting juxtaposed strangely with almost every scene, setting one’s mind to archival art storage. It was only after, when I realised they were using the set from Other People’s Money which is also currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, that it made sense.
Hypnotic bass-heavy music and dimmed lights build quickly from the beginning and then return for each piece of dance delivering a sense of consistent frustration left unrealised. The production elements were overall tight and well thought-through which is always rewarding at the Fringe Theatre level.
Taken together, a talented cast of young female actors delivered a searching show despite a pedestrian script often constructed out of feel-good snippets and baseless cliche. The politics were angry and the messages assertive with each of the female characters delivering a red-misted illustration of how race and gender interlock with these individual women.
Reviewed by William Nash
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: