Reviewed – 11th December 2019
“a wonderful display of talented performances with a script not quite up to scratch”
A tragedy doesn’t just befall the victim in the middle, it happens to so many people. One Under explores the effects of loss, ownership of grief, and the sometimes-bizarre ways we deal with it, whether we knew the person or not.
Sonny (Reece Pantry), a good-natured and well-loved young man full of potential, jumps in front of a train. His mother (Shenagh Govan) and sister (Evlyne Oyedokun) are left to manage their understandable grief. Train driver Cyrus (Stanley J. Browne) finds himself incapable of moving past the incident, and takes on the mystery of Sonny’s suicide, insistent that the story is more complicated than it might seem. We’re also privy to Sonny’s last day before his death, in which he decides to anoint himself the guardian angel of Christine (Clare-Louise English), a complete stranger.
The story works best when we’re unsure of how it will all piece together. Dialogue is playful and snappy; various relationships are displayed organically, painting a true-to-life image. But as soon as we reach an attempt at clarity- I’d say about an hour in- it all starts to drag a little. Each plotline is too complex to meet any other with any kind of harmony, as though writer Winsome Pinnock had lots of ideas, but no ending in mind.
The first ten minutes are also distractingly confusing, as Govan plays both a jaded fellow train driver trying to down-play Sonny’s death, and, in the following scene, his grieving mother. It’s unclear for too long that these are two different people. I’m sure casting director Sarah Hughes was working to a budget, but maybe next time splash out and get someone to step in for the first role. That being said, Hughes has done a splendid job otherwise. Govan as the mother perfectly balances force and affection; her relationships with both her children seem well-worn and honest. Pantry is spectacular, showing the full range of someone on the brink. English, too, expresses incredible nuance, full of kindness whilst distrustful of others’ good nature.
The scenery (Amelia Jane Hankin), though very pretty, doesn’t work. Two free-standing wooden shelves bow over the stage, carefully curated with plants and artfully stacked books. Scenes come and go in various locations, and I’m waiting for the backdrop to make sense. It’s possible it suits a scene in a hotel, or maybe Sonny’s flat, but the story takes place in a bunch of different places, so it really doesn’t make sense even if it were either of those, and it’s unclear either way.
The main trouble, though, is that within this one play, Pinnock has enough material for a series, following various characters, each with their own story, each suffering in their own private way. But in attempting to squeeze it in to one plot under two hours, she’s lost the thread. I would love to see this story properly unpacked, but for now, One Under, as directed by Amit Sharma, is a wonderful display of talented performances with a script not quite up to scratch.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Patrick Baldwin
Arcola Theatre until 21st December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Shoreditch Town Hall
Reviewed – 26th September 2019
“a smorgasbord brimming with light and shade, tension and reflection, and poetic language and cheesy jokes, leaving you fully satisfied by its end”
‘We cater for everything’, Nora explains, as she waxes lyrical on the beauty of gastronomy to the audience, framed as passengers on a long-haul flight. The speech is delivered through headphones that we each wear, accompanied by pulsing, transcendent music, while the lights flicker in a hypnotic canon. All the while, we’re consuming the most thematically prescient and tongue-igniting Yorkshire puddings perhaps to have ever graced the stage. I think it’s safe to say that Nora isn’t wrong.
Gastronomic centres on three chefs – Nora (Georgina Strawson), Luca (Craig Hamilton), and Agat (Ani Nelson) – catering for a first-class long-haul flight from Mumbai to Heathrow. The audience, as the passengers, subsequently get to enjoy the seven courses they produce, while their interactions reveal that their intentions may not be as clear-cut as they seem; flashbacks slowly reveal a story that’s truly about the necessity of connection and empathy between humans, and the ways in which we express it. The poignancy of this main plot is excellently counterbalanced in a parallel narrative where the actors instead play Border Control personnel, sharing banter and interacting with the audience, while also carrying an undercurrent of unsteadiness that erupts in its culmination. The devised script from curious directive (conceived by Jack Lowe) is a smorgasbord brimming with light and shade, tension and reflection, and poetic language and cheesy jokes, leaving you fully satisfied by its end.
However, Gastronomic’s script is only one of its myriad of facets. The food (prepared chiefly by head chef Clyde Ngounou and sous-chef Daniel Spirlinng) isn’t just there as a cheap gimmick – each course ties directly into the story, created as a result of the characters’ experiences and histories. At one point, Nora reminisces about what made her drop an ice cream on Brighton pier, while we devour End of Brighton Pier – what appears to be an ice cream cone but is actually deconstructed fish and chips – allowing us to essentially taste the memory. The ways in which the food manifests the psychology of the characters as well as the script’s linguistic imagery is truly staggering, and makes for a sensory experience like no other. Thankfully, every single course is also delicious, a particular highlight being the supernova of autumnal flavours that Sherwood Forest delivered.
The multi-sensory nature of the show doesn’t stop there, though. Due to the headphones being worn by the audience, it allows the sound mix (designed by Kieran Lucas) to be incredibly cinematic. The actors are free to speak as intimately as they wish, giving a surrendering sensitivity to some of the more heart-wrenching moments, while also being able to take it to the other extreme and embrace the theatricality of other scenes, which is a balance that Hamilton especially was able to utilise spectacularly with his two hugely contrasting characters. When the next course is on its way, the speech is aviated by Theo Whitworth’s soul-searing compositions and flouresced by Ed Elbourne’s liminal lighting. Jack Lowe’s design and direction of the show has ensured that everything truly has been catered for; Gastronomic is a massage for every sense. The food isn’t just for the stomach, but for the mind and soul.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Ali Wright
Shoreditch Town Hall until 12th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: