“an important story, and judging by the racially charged goings-on of last week, couldn’t be timelier”
I know what the embodiment of true joy and self-assuredness looks like: It looks like Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in a sunshine yellow jumpsuit dancing hard all over a lava-encrusted multi-level set to a double-time remix of Aretha’s ‘Think’; dancing so hard she leaves the audience to three rounds of applause whilst she gets her breath back. And thus, we are introduced to “Her”.
“Her”- as Her Majesty’s Passport office keeps referring to her- is trying to renew her British passport with no luck. A dual citizen, her first name is missing from her South African passport, and she needs to fix this before they’ll renew her British one. But why is her name missing in the first place? This mystery sparks the beginning of a journey back, bridging decades and continents, beginning in a colonised Congo, and ending in modern day London, all in search of a sense of belonging. Though Adékoluẹjo begins with a joyous dance, the story itself is one of struggle and fury.
Though later in the story the name of “Her” is confirmed as writer Benedict Lombe, Lombe having employed an actor to play the role might easily have given the performance a fictional detachment. But Adékoluẹjo undertakes the story as though it were her own, with so much love and care that the separation between writer and performer is invisible to the audience’s eye. Slipping between prose and colloquialism, both the script and Adékoluẹjo are completely charming.
The premise is strong and compelling: The reason behind her missing first name is fascinating and perfectly symbolic of the messy nuances of identity and history. But there’s a disconnect between the resolution of this first dilemma and the rest of the story, which is still rich in character and content but without a central element to keep it on track. The ending too feels messy, as though Lombe couldn’t quite decide how to finish, so she picked all the options.
This is really all much of a muchness though because it hardly dampens the effects of Lombe’s passionate and remonstrative script and Adékoluẹjo’s effervescent performance. This is an important story, and judging by the racially charged goings-on of last week, couldn’t be timelier.
“an interesting experience for theatre goers who like their plays cryptic and undetermined”
Fix is a play about an old woman who lives alone in a mysterious wood, and a repairman who comes to mend her very old washing machine. Julie Tsang’s play is part thriller, part mystery, all set in a puzzling location that could be a forest in, well, just about anywhere. But before one starts thinking Grimm’s Brothers’ fairytale, it is clear that the Chinese woman, Li Na, who inhabits the house, is no western witch waiting to ensnare young children with sweets. She is, however, clearly part of a Chinese mythology, either traditional or reimagined, who may, or may not, have dragons in her attic.
The premise for this story is straightforward, but from the moment Kevin arrives at Li Na’s house, everything else dissolves into ambiguity. So it is for the audience—the moment we enter the downstairs space at the Pleasance Theatre. The set (designed by Rachel Wingate) is low lit (lights designed by Ali Hunter), and the fog in the air creates a further sense of indistinct boundaries. The seating bleeds into the set on one side. So it’s a nice touch when the cast enters the back of the stage from the street and injects a sense of a concrete world outside before enclosing us once again in this enigmatic space. Added to all this mist and mystery is Richard Bell’s sound design, which is also highly appropriate to the theme, and which adds yet another layer of doubt.
The play begins with a voice telling us a myth about a “magnificent tree on six legs.” Then Kevin steps into the house, and his first response is to tell Li Na, very firmly, that her washing machine is too expensive to fix, and that she’s better off just buying a new one. Things get weird. Li Na doesn’t want a new machine, despite having the money to buy one. She wants this one fixed, and fixed tonight. She has money, she has beer if Kevin’s thirsty, she has tea for his headache. She keeps repeating, ominously, that he “will be here awhile.” She asks a lot of questions about whether her house is the last call of the day, and whether he has anyone he needs to go home too. Playwright Tsang has great skill in building suspense. Actors Mikey Anthony-Howe and Tina Chiang present characters Kevin and Li Na as fully rounded and believable. Fix is ably supported by Jen Tan’s direction.
But the problem with Fix is that, plot wise, it wanders in much the same way that Kevin once wandered through Li Na’s woods as a boy. At any point during the play, the audience might be wondering “is this the moment dragons burst through the ceiling”? “Why does Li Na steal a tool from Kevin’s tool bag if she’s not planning to brain him with it”? And despite all these warnings that something is not quite right in Li Na’s house, Kevin doesn’t seem to want to escape nearly enough. Instead, this experience is a seventy minute stroll through a series of shifting situations from a real problem (fixing the washing machine) to less explicit problems (what else has Kevin been summoned to fix?) with a lack of a clear resolution at the end.
In conclusion, Fix is best summed up as an interesting experience for theatre goers who like their plays cryptic and undetermined. It does take a fresh look at the more traditional murder mystery, but even that may be reading too much into this perplexing situation.