If This Is Normal
Pit – The Vaults
Reviewed -25th February 2020
“a spectacular performance taking the audience on a journey of emotions”
VAULT Festival 2020 is a storm of ideas and madness, parties, costume and cabaret. What’s so great about being in the audience of ‘If This Is Normal’, directed by Helena Jackson, is the experience of watching something truly honest and sharing something deeply personal with the characters.
Two siblings, Madani (Isambard Rawbone) and Maryam (Zarma McDermott) meet Alex (Aoife Smyth) on their first day at a new school, all recently having moved to the area. Instantly, they become an inseparable three, and bounce off each other with boundless energy, their neon costume producing a loud synaesthetic experience. This coming of age story is about feeling different at school, post-exam freedoms, strong teenage friendships and the different experiences and expectations surrounding sex and consent whilst growing up.
I couldn’t think of a better place than beneath the humbling arches near Waterloo to watch such a piece where we are confided in, questioned and left to reflect. The script is beautifully written (Lucy Danser), laced with moments of poetry and left without a resolution. The characters work together seamlessly and the lines reflect their uncontained love for each other at a stage in life when, even though everything is shared, everything remains utterly mysterious.
Clothes are a strong theme throughout. All the costume changes take place onstage and as garments are strewn about the set (Lorraine Terry) and new ones are acquired, the audience sees an acceleration of the period the three characters spend growing up. These are the awkward years of adolescence where nothing feels concrete and the eclectic outfits allow for some nostalgia. Pigtails loosen and bodycon dresses tighten: a concoction of conformity and liberation reminding us that being a teenager is nothing but confusing.
Loud conversation is accompanied by competingly loud sounds and music (Nicola Chang), which is unfortunately a little overwhelming at times. However, it captures the mood of different scenes remarkably well and is incredibly evocative. The different pieces of music also create an underlying structure to the piece. The characters make their own sounds: gasps, screams and thuds are the background to their movements as they slot into the spaces with perfect synchronisation.
All three characters deliver very intelligent and believable parts, three teenagers growing up with their own insecurities and quirks. Isambard Rawbone connects completely with his character and delivers a spectacular performance taking the audience on a journey of emotions.
If you have an hour to spare, this performance is truly worth seeing and will transport you back as well as offering a space for reflection on growing up and early relationships.
Reviewed by Amy Faulkner