“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.
“While the show has a scattering of very funny lines, it’s mostly incomprehensible”
Perhaps you’ve heard the ancient Greek story about a nation’s women who, fed up with an interminable war, banded together to refuse men sex until they agreed to call off the fighting. This is the plot of Lysistrata by Aristophanes, first performed in Athens in 411 BC. The Delta Collective have revamped the play for the modern era, setting the story in a non-binary world.
Unfortunately, if you haven’t read the original play, this one won’t make much sense. Alice Carlill, Alex Kristoffy, Robin Kristoffy and Luke MacLeod’s adaptation takes almost no care to clarify who the characters are, where they are, and what they’re doing at any given moment. Each scene presents a new challenge to discern what they’re talking about. The specifics of their protest are opaque. The series of events verges on nonsensical: there’s a gathering of representatives – we have no idea who they are, or what they represent. In one scene, the women are hard at work hauling bags – we’re given no clue why. In another, a letter arrives prompting everyone to fall screaming to the floor – it’s never explained. The whole thing feels random and messy. It’s very hard to follow.
The characters make long, passionate speeches that are practically unintelligible. Generic language about “not submitting” and “rights” and “the workers” form highly vague arguments that don’t seem to be attached to any particular subjects. Flashes of clever, surprisingly funny lines prove the writing is strongest when it breaks out of adaptation mode. Ikky Elyas (Philurgus and Drakes), and Louis Rembges (The Secretary) stand out in regard to the comedy.
Lack of clarity in the writing combined with uneven performances makes the characters seem erratic: suddenly they’re shouting, suddenly they’re sobbing. It’s impossible to feel connected to the emotions when they appear to fly out of nowhere. Aoife Smyth, who plays Lysistrata, comes across more stroppy teen than fierce leader. But immaturity is a broader issue. Most of what should be impassioned debate is reduced to senseless juvenile screaming. It’s a young cast, and director Olivia Stone may have intentionally chosen to emphasise the characters’ adolescent behaviour. However, while teenage-leaning performances bring out the sophomoric nature of Aristophanes’ sex-based comedy, they’re shallower and less convincing as adults with spouses and children.
Lysistrata, a comedy about a sex strike, is not something to meet with seriousness. The Delta Collective are absolutely right to play and experiment with reshaping this text for 2019, interrogating its gender and sexuality power dynamics. It’s a shame the story seems to have been lost in translation. While the show has a scattering of very funny lines, it’s mostly incomprehensible.