As the theatre lights dim, the couple in Rory Thomas-Howes’ A Partnership stumble in, tipsy from celebrating the birthday of Ally (Ben Hadfield) with his workmates at the pub. However, the pair are bickering rather than joyous as they start to unpack items into their new house from the boxes that litter the stage, provoked by an interaction between Zach (Rory Thomas-Howes) and a local at the pub. With an hour to go before Ally turns thirty, the couple’s conversation turns from superficial worries about Ally’s resistance to leaving his twenties to deeply intimate matters as it becomes clear their partnership is fragile and brittle. As their relationship is unboxed throughout the play, the overarching theme of Zach’s internalised homophobia becomes clear, where he is evidently struggling with the pressure from both the heteronormative world to have a perfect relationship with a clear future set out, and the modern gay man’s world where he perceives the main focus to be on sex, and monogamy is non-existent.
The play is presented as a straight one-hour dialogue between the two men in a tragi-comedy style, with no change in scene or staging. The comedic elements to the play were witty and quick, and Hadfield’s fast delivery brought life to the interaction between the couple. The piece also had an emotional depth owing to Thomas-Howes’ writing, depicting thoughts and emotions about internalised homophobia with precision and accuracy, likely due to the actor and writer’s own self-described queer identity. Although there was a good overall balance between the funny and the serious, the transition between the two was confusing, where the tone would go from moments of light-heartedness into seriousness frequently. This led at times to some lack of sincerity of the characters’ feelings and added a sense of melodrama to an otherwise believable story. That aside, the play was generally well directed by Josh Tucker.
Ally and Zach’s relationship did not feel completely realistic due to their differences in personality and an overt clash between Ally’s outgoing and “feminine” traits and Zach’s more reserved and “straight-acting” character. However, the expectations for gay men to behave as traditional couples with masculine and feminine partners is discussed throughout the story. Hadfield as Ally was a clear standout, giving a hilarious performance when the writing required and a stunningly captivating delivery during emotional scenes, whereas Thomas-Howes was less convincing as Zach, almost overacting at times. However, the performance otherwise provided a poignant look into modern gay relationships.
“the true warmth and intricacies of his personality shine through as he laughs and bounces off his audience”
‘The Oxford Arms’, an old Victorian pub, nestled in the heart Camden market in North London, is home to the Etcetera Theatre. This is one of twenty-seven spaces hosting shows for the Camden Fringe which, in its 14th year, is showing a selection of talent ranging from comedy and improv to dance and opera. ‘Belamour’, directed by Zois Pigadas, is a non-profit, one-man show, based on true life experience and raising money for the MS Society. Boldly confrontational, the piece addresses themes of family, love and identity, wrapped up in a story about an incurable and crippling illness.
Belamour (Ewens Abid) lives in France and is of Algerian descent. Snapshots of Belamour’s story are performed in chronology: the experience of growing up on a concrete estate in Belfort, France; his mother’s glorious cooking; a brief time spent dealing drugs and then progressing fortuitously into the building trade. As life seems to be looking up for Belamour, he collides with the beautiful Monica and everything changes.
Abid, who also wrote the show, begins the production by questioning natural prejudice towards his identity. Audience response is encouraged which infuses the piece with energy. From the outset, identity is framed as the main motif. Belamour is torn between his family and starting a loving relationship in the modern world. Interestingly, the devastating illness, multiple sclerosis, although well-explained, is explored less. The character’s struggle with his illness could have been developed further.
A lifeless wooden dummy, twin to our charismatic narrator, is positioned centre stage and is used imaginatively to command the space. For example, it towers over Belamour as the concrete estate that was once his home. The grey hoodie and black joggers worn by both, cleverly enhance this scene.
The play is as much about words, language and sound as a degenerative loss of movement. Belamour speaks English, interspersed with a hybrid of Arabic and French. The languages are masterfully intertwined into the script. The audience are not spoon-fed translations which are few. However, humorous mimes accompany parts of the spoken script to ensure that nothing is lost. Light comedy precedes deeper poetry which posits strong metaphors throughout, the main one being the tragic image of a mermaid, trapped between land and sea, desperate to prove you do not need legs to run.
Sound and lighting (Stephanie Watson) elevate the action, such as the music on the dance floor and rhythmic heartbeats, as well as an ominous rendition of the ‘Mission Impossible’ soundtrack which portends Belamour’s insurmountable quest in search for truth. Lighting is used to transport us to different scenes, from the disco to the cold blue light of the moon, infusing the play with its comi-tragedy.
Ewens Abid delivers this play with incredible energy and Belamour’s tragic plight is deeply moving. He juggles multiple characters and themes but most importantly, the true warmth and intricacies of his personality shine through as he laughs and bounces off his audience. The show is proof to the astonishing feats that can be achieved by a one-man show.
Reviewed by Amy Faulkner
Photography by Nick Mauldin
Etcetera Theatre until 25th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019