Reviewed – 15th July 2021
“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.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Helen Murray
Bush Theatre until 7th August
Recently reviewed by Miriam:
A New and Better You
The Yard Theatre
Reviewed – 29th June 2018
“Harbot’s script has some beautiful language and is rather poetic in parts”
A New and Better You, written by Joe Harbot and directed by Cheryl Gallacher, tells the story of an unnamed protagonist (played by Hannah Traylen) as she transforms from an unmotivated loser to a superstar wellness influencer. It’s a biting critique of the online self-help movement and the soulless consumerism at the heart of it.
The protagonist’s “upgrade” is overseen by two–also unnamed–characters, who seem like a mix of motivational speakers and PR consultants. They are played by the excellent Saffron Coomber and Alex Austin. Their creepy smiles and upbeat attitudes are enough to set your teeth on edge. The acting overall is superb, in particular from Traylen who is able to move from depressed to ecstatic seamlessly and is able to subtly show the cracks starting to appear in the star’s supposedly “new and improved” self.
Harbot’s script has some beautiful language and is rather poetic in parts. One long monologue where the protagonist lists, and apologises, for all of her flaws, is especially moving. However, the frequency of these long, abstract monologues becomes a bit repetitive, and while these speeches about how to improve oneself do reflect the themes of the play I couldn’t help but wish for a bit more dialogue and action. While the script certainly proves its point about the absurdity and shallowness of the self-improvement world, the play feels like it is lacking in structure.
The design is sublime. Bethany Wells has created a surrealist masterpiece with a diamond shape sandpit at the centre of the stage and a gold diamond stuck to the brick wall at the back of the theatre. The projections of motivational quotes and emojis are funny, stylish and add to the overall nightmarish feeling, without ever being intrusive. The stylish design and projections are further complimented by the excellent design and sound/composition. Jess Bernberg’s lighting design is original and mesmerising, in particular in the final climactic scene where we are made to feel as though we are in a desert; the lights perfectly mimic the sun, swirling sand and hot, blurry air. Josh Anio Grigg’s sound, like the projections, never feels invasive but rather like another layer of this creepy, false world of gym exercises and product endorsements.
Overall, A New and Better You is slick, stylish, and a haunting look at the ends some people will go to to improve themselves. Well worth a watch.
Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com
Photography by Helen Murray
A New and Better You
The Yard Theatre until 14th July
Previously reviewed at this venue