Cavern – The Vaults
Reviewed – 18th February 2020
“not just funny but well-structured with a neat ending”
‘I’m vegan!’ blurts out white, wealthy Mai on first meeting black, broke Mo, an instant assertion of her right-headed and socially conscious credentials. To Mai, of course, Mo has no need for such credentials, so the two progress immediately to probing each other’s commitment to saving the planet and changing society. They declare their attendance at climate protests and refusal to take Ubers, except in exceptional circumstances. They abhor any organisations with questions hanging over their right-headedness and social conscience. As their relationship nervously moves through the gears, an arms race of committedness commences. They move into Mai’s inherited home, negotiate the minefield between their respective privilege and realism and wind up living the reductionist result of their posturing, existing indoors, without gas or electricity, eating chickpeas and chanting daily their promise to preserve the earth’s resources. Inevitably, the relationship frays, from about the moment they are forced to eat Mai’s pet goldfish.
The writer of Omelette, Anna Spearpoint, plays Mai with spot-on comic timing, as you might expect, while the promising Kwami Odoom adapts easily to the chippy interplay. The upshot is an unrelenting to and fro in which Mai’s habits, neuroses and ethical blind spots are matched with those of Mo in a stream of sparring, snogging, preaching and pledging.
Long Distance Theatre has its own pledge, to produce works that shake us while raising a smile. Anna Spearpoint’s script certainly does the latter, not just funny but well-structured with a neat ending. However, unclear which case it’s making, it doesn’t quite do the former. Our dietary threat to the planet, the contradictions of activism, the plight of the let-down-badly generation, or the death spiral of relationships all seem like good candidates. The zero-carbon nature of the production supports the idea that the play’s subject is climate anxiety, but as a snapshot of a generation desperately grasping security and meaning, it hints at something darker, helped by Tash Hyman’s direction. Wheeling round each other on a circular stage, the movement and precise lighting (Rajiv Pattani) dramatise the physical and intellectual dances the two characters must perform. Sound design (Alice Boyd) provides angsty links, slipping time forward in skips and leaps, while props appear mysteriously, indeed mystifyingly, via motorcycle-helmeted couriers (production design by Seren Noel). Accompanied by VAULT Festival’s own thundering train rumbles and dripping water, the whole ends up, like Mai and Mo themselves, a bit more apocalyptic than necessary.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Ali Wright
The Half God of Rainfall
Reviewed – 30th April 2019
“a captivating and unique blend of combined storylines and lineages that seamlessly interact and complement one another”
The Half God of Rainfall is the latest instalment from writer and poet Inua Ellams, performed at the recently revamped Kiln Theatre (formerly the Tricycle Theatre). It tells the mystical story of a half Nigerian mortal – half Olympian god, and his mortal mother.
Combining ancient Yoruba and Greek mythology, Ellams creates a sort of multiverse, with the Orishas and Olympian Gods standing side by side. This results in a captivating and unique blend of combined storylines and lineages that seamlessly interact and complement one another.
There is a strong sense of cohesive collaboration in this production. All the elements: design (Max Johns), sound (Tanuja Amarasuriya), lighting (Jackie Shemesh), movement (Imogen Knight) and direction (Nancy Medina) had purpose and neither obstructed nor overshadowed each other. The aesthetic of the production, down to the costume design was simplistic yet precise; permitting the audience to fill in the gaps with our imagination. It was impressive and rewarding to see the intelligence and effort behind every artistic choice. The sense of play and the world of mythology was all the more enhanced for the audience, as a result.
The play is a two hander and reads like an epic poem, reminiscent of writers such as Debbie Tucker Green and Homer. Though wordy in parts (and the accents being a little off at times) the language and stylish flow of Ellams’ writing had the dexterity to always engage one back to the story.
The actors, Rakie Ayola and Kwami Odoom traversed effortlessly between multiple characters with a fluidity that reinforced the continuous flowing rhythm of the story. Their dramatic choices were bold and distinct. Most of all, Ayola and Odoom were wonderful to watch; arresting, dynamic and exciting.
This play is a multi-layered, complex and highly intelligent piece of writing. Ellams addresses racial politics, legacy, culture, human spirit, self-destruction and the narrative of abused women and lost men all under one mythological roof. The audience is sent on a journey to Olympus and the galaxies beyond as though turning the pages of the story ourselves. The fine line between legend and reality was masterfully detailed reflecting our own need and desire to create demigods out of celebrities and sporting heroes.
Unpredictably clever throughout, poignant and fun, we were also brought, purposefully, back to Earth as Ellams reflected the brutality of life, at us. How those in power, who can seem untouchable like deities, so oft abuse their privileged and inflict violations beyond comprehension. And yet, even in the depths of pain and violation, the human spirit can be an indomitable and mighty force.
Ellams intertwines message and poetry with great balance. We do not leave the theatre with the thought that this is simply a play to be left in the clouds of fantasy. We’re reminded to take home the sobering and yet uplifting thought that a magnitude of strength resides in all of us and that the choice as how we wield it is, indeed, a great one.
A skilfully crafted, magical folktale; one that will certainly stand the test of time.
Reviewed by Pippin
Photography by Dan Tsantilis
The Half God of Rainfall
Kiln Theatre until 17th May