“has really strong ingredients across the board but struggles to create a cohesive whole”
Two men are asleep on the ground. The floor is littered with pebbles. In the middle of the stage is a barrel, or our well. At the bottom of the well is a white dog. The white dog has been barking since this morning. When two men discover the white dog they are outraged and cannot decide what to do. ‘A Pocketful of Bread’ is a highly topical and relevant investigation into a culture where people are quick to criticise but far slower to do anything about it, and the play is characterised by a strange and sadly recognisable combination of outrage and inaction.
The piece was originally written in Romania in 1984, though this production goes some way to modernising it. Man with Cane’s cane has been replaced by a selfie stick and their clothes are generically contemporary, however the selfie stick is used clumsily and without conviction rendering it out of place in the narrative. More focus on confidently drawing these contemporary parallels is necessary, or alternatively allowing the evident relevance of the words to suffice and creating a timeless setting for the play.
Matel Visniec’s writing, translated and adapted by Gabriel Mansour, Ana Nanu and Anne-Sophie Marie is beautiful, at moments bordering on the poetic. It is delivered by two very assured performances by Ross Mullan and Gabriel Mansour. Mullan brings a wonderful energy to the play, and Mansour’s brooding manner feels particularly appropriate to the narrative.
This play has really strong ingredients across the board but struggles to create a cohesive whole. It seems to jump between genres, drama, farce, surrealism in a way that makes these changes feel jarring. Finding more humour and surrealism early on, which could possibly be accessed via pace, would ensure these transitions do not take us out of the play world, and the play as a whole would have a much stronger impact. Furthermore an earlier introduction of surrealism would make it easier to accept the many unanswered questions such as why these men are both here, whose dog this is, why they begin the play asleep then sleep alongside each other later in the piece. Establishing a sense of absurdity early on would allow for more flexibility to play with these questions, without the onus being placed on finding an answer. The ending, however, is beautiful, simple and inexplicable.
‘A Pocketful of Bread’ is a really promising piece, well delivered, and beautifully written that needs to spend some time playing with genre in a more cohesive way.
“sophisticated, even slick, staging serving an unsophisticated plot”
Recently endowed with superpowers, the Croydon Avengers take the Ovalhouse by storm on a mission to fight crime and bring justice and peace. Inspired by Maya Productions ‘Superheroes: South of the River’, a project involving young Londoners including young refugees, writer, Oladipo Agboluaje, draws a budding junior audience into a world they can relate to, a world of comic books, superheroes and martial arts. With energy and enthusiasm, Petre (Theo Toksvig-Stewart), Laure (Nicole Sawyerr) and Aisha (Shala Nyx), three refugees from different ethnic backgrounds, set out to show that they are not helpless and needy, but are ready to fight for their places in British society. But Regina Rump, played by Tania Rodrigues, fears they are a threat to British identity and orders her media empire to stop them. Will her political influence overcome the trio? Or will their strength and determination prove too powerful even for her?
Director, Suzanne Gorman, creates a fast-moving narrative, interposing live action with clips of video, illustration, audio and audience participation. The fluidity of the complex coordination of images (Victor Ross) and sound (Riz Maslen) together with the functional set designed by Marina Hadjilouca, which neatly adapts to change the scenes, helps to hold a school-age audience’s attention. The lighting (Katherine Williams) works to emphasise dramatic moments but could be used to greater effect in keeping with a comic book’s exaggerated visual impact.
The cast work well to form a team yet portray three individual stories with empathy. They discuss and debate their different backgrounds, their journeys to the same situation, their confused feelings and their determination. Tania Rodrigues’ Regina sheds light on a dissonant viewpoint; she, like many, does not see the refugees as victims. It’s not always easy to say whether plays of this simplistic and fast-moving kind make children think about the predicaments of refugees unless they have some follow-up or prepping. In any case its saliency would vary between and within audiences. Eight-year-olds, who are included within the production’s target range, would enjoy it as a superhero comic brought to life. At a school with displaced students it’s likely to be powerful, fulfilling a deep need for representation. For the more mature, young adult audiences such as that at Ovalhouse, it borders on trite; sophisticated, even slick, staging serving an unsophisticated plot and a moral that the newcomer’s desperate need to fit in can be resolved through positivity and teamwork. Not for everyone, but in the scripting, projections and interplay of the young performers, some hidden theatrical superpowers are on display.