Reviewed – 9th November 2018
“it doesn’t quite probe far enough, risking becoming just another well-trodden story of one culture failing to integrate with another”
Performed as part of this year’s Voila! Europe Festival, one of the rare festivals in London that brings together British and continental European artists to create what they call a “border-busting mix of multicultural, multilingual, and multidisciplinary performance”, ‘Unbelonger’ is a clever, witty and inventive piece of physical theatre exploring ideas of identity, discrimination and – you guessed it – belonging.
Directed and devised by Finnish artist Erika Eva, the piece uses puppetry and movement to narrate one person’s struggle to feel at home in a foreign environment. What words or actions make us feel excluded, and how does this exclusion affect our own sense of personal and cultural identity? Whether it be work, school or the search for love, the cost of ‘fitting in’ can sometimes be high. To what extent can communities or groups accept ‘different’ cultures, and how could we work to interweave these cultures successfully?
Thematically, ‘Unbelonger’ asks vital and timely questions of its audience and seeing this work here just five months before Britain leaves the European Union reminds us to think more about how our national identity is formed and defined. The international cast (Janaki Gerard, Silvia Manazzone, Tongchai Hansen and Durassie Kiangangu) are energetic and their movement precise, whisking between set pieces effortlessly. Eva combines repetition and an effective use of lighting to explore how good something can look from the outside, but reveal itself to be cold and hollow when we finally get invited in. Xavier Velastin provides a thrilling, almost dystopian, synth-like score, playing it live on his own board of electronic instruments (and what looked like a joystick). Expert use of lighting highlights moments of private reflection, and some cute puppetry from Manazzone creates an intimate relationship between the self and its past.
‘Unbelonger’ is bursting with beautiful, funny set pieces, and the storytelling is clear from the start. As a sum of its parts though, it feels like it doesn’t quite probe far enough, risking becoming just another well-trodden story of one culture failing to integrate with another. It forces some uncomfortable questions nonetheless, and it is work like this that makes the Voila! Europe Festival such a thrilling and necessary part of London theatre.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Cockpit Theatre until 12th November
Previously reviewed at this venue:
On Mother’s Day
Reviewed – 14th August 2018
“you can see why director Erika Eva’s work has been compared to that of Complicité and DV8“
On Mother’s Day, written by Saaramaria Kuittinen and directed by Erika Eva, tells the story of an unnamed protagonist (played by Christian Scicluna) who is on death row awaiting his sentence. Scicluna’s character is trying to make his mother a Mother’s Day card and he wants to cover it in drawings of flowers (a recurring motif/symbol in the play) but he doesn’t have any colouring pencils. He addresses the audience throughout and tells us not only what life is like inside the four walls of his cell, but also how he got there. The story moves backwards and forwards throughout time from his abusive childhood, to life with his wife and baby, and then back to the present.
While Scicluna is the only actor with significant lines there are two other performers: Lukas Bozik, who plays a number of characters including the protagonist’s abusive father as well as his violent brother, and Silvia Manazzone, who plays his mother and his wife. Bozik and Manazzone’s roles are mostly physical and they play these parts beautifully. The movements feel organic and not too choreographed, but still tight and well-executed. In these moments you can see why director Erika Eva’s work has been compared to that of Complicité and DV8. Her direction, in particular the use of the second level of the Cockpit, works well. Bozik and Manazzone stalk along the upstairs level which creates a sense of being in a prison and being watched from all sides. Again, having the piece in the round also works well to amplify the feeling of claustrophobia and being enclosed within a cell.
The set, lighting and sound are also well-done. The set is simple: white tape on the ground in the centre of the stage represents the small cell which the prisoner is kept in all day and night. There is a metal bed frame on wheels which is used as a bed, but also to represent the bars of the prison and in a number of other imaginative ways. Another creative element is the use of torches throughout the show which again, reminds one of the prison setting but also creates some visually arresting shadows and projections on the walls of the theatre. Xavier Velastin’s sound design is instrumental and minimalistic. It is atmospheric without being intrusive.
Scicluna does well to carry the piece considering he is the only character with lines. However, there is something lacking either in the script, which was cliched in some parts, or in his performance, which prevented me from becoming emotionally involved. With such dark and emotional subject matter I was surprised that the story did not move me. It is unclear how we are supposed to feel about the lead, a man who clearly had a traumatic childhood and yet committed a crime awful enough to be on death row. The nuances of this character and his situation could be better explored.
Overall, On Mother’s Day is a well-designed show with good performances but it lacks the emotional depth and connection needed for a play about such a serious topic.
Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com
On Mother’s Day
Cockpit Theatre until 16th August
as part of The Camden Fringe Festival 2018