“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.
“multi-talented young actors tell this compulsive and provocative story”
The Royal Theatre in Northampton re-opens with a superb production from the National Youth Theatre REP Company of George Orwell’s fairy tale/allegory adapted for the stage by Tatty Hennessy.
We are introduced to the main players with a recorded voice-over (Will Stewart). Each animal has been clearly well workshopped and is meticulously caricatured. There is no wearing of animal masks, and little crawling on all fours. Base costumes (Jasmine Swan) are adorned with small signifiers: the pigs wear pink gilets; Minty the sheep, a white tutu and woollen bobble hat; the horses, brown leather belts and straps.
The simplicity of the set (Jasmine Swan), a backdrop of hanging plastic strips, allows the flexibility of multiple entrance and exit points and when the light catches their mud and dirt it gives a looming feeling of the abattoir. Generally effective lighting (Zoe Spurr) includes the dramatic landing of a helicopter, sensational backlit scenes to cast warning shadows and the occasional dramatic use of colour.
Director Ed Stambollouian intersperses full ensemble pieces with scenes focusing on individual characters where each animal gets their turn in the limelight. Each animal could carry more of the story, but all animals are not equal. Napoleon (Jack Matthew) is the main man (pig!) – the self-proclaimed leader of the Revolution. His transformation from pig to man-equal is the more impressive as he fights the animalistic urge to slip back squealing into the mud. Squealer (Matilda Rae) is the political spin-doctor, beautifully conniving and deceitful. The carthorse Boxer (Will Atiomo) with his maxim of “I will work harder” shows fine vocal colour and excellent physical movement. Much of the narration falls upon the mare Clover (Adeola Yemitan) who shines in her poignant personal scene.
The full ensemble scenes are rhythmic and physical (choreography by Vicki Igbokwe) with inventive and ingenious uses of buckets and ladders although handling of the latter sometimes appears clumsy in the close confines of the Royal stage. The hip-hop dance scene counting the seven animal commandments particularly stands out and the singing of the anthem Beasts of England (Composer John Elliott, Musical Director Jordan Clarke) would not sound out of place sung from the barricades of another revolutionary stage show. Whilst the initial Revolution seems too easily won, the Battle of the Cowshed is brilliantly portrayed: animals in formation across all angles of the stage defeat the cartoonish Farmer Giles with kick-ass action (Fight Director Enric Fortuño).
The second half does not sustain the dynamisms of the first as the size of the ensemble reduces, but it does include the most unsettling scene of the evening involving the worrying use of metal pails which evoke shades of the Lubyanka and Guantánamo.
The writer hopes in her programme notes that the show will make us angry. We clearly see how the hard work of the proletariat is exploited by the autocracy, how the honesty of the workers’ revolution is betrayed by its leaders. We see the lies and scheming of politicians as they push through their own vanity projects, air brush history, and steal from the populace… But after seeing these multi-talented young actors tell this compulsive and provocative story on stage I came away primarily with a satisfied feeling that such stories are once again being told. The anger can come later.