Reviewed – 22nd February 2019
“Sacha Voit and Jessica Butcher have written a very good play. If they were to pare down the problems a bit they could turn it into an excellent one”
A line from the show’s publicity is a good introduction to this play. “A funny, heartbreaking adventure through forests, friendship and Femfresh that reveals the loneliness of age and the power of Mother Nature.”
Willow works as a pharmacist, patiently listening to people’s problems and trying to help. Liz, an elderly customer, doesn’t think Willow looks like a pharmacist – she is a young black woman and doesn’t fit the stereotype. But Liz doesn’t fit the old lady stereotype either. She is feisty and funny, keeping her husband in the utility room, walking in the woods smoking and swearing. She is also very good at putting her foot in it. These two very different women talk to the audience and to each other, stripping off the defensive layers they have built up to protect themselves. In the process they discover a shared love for trees. Willow is writing an article and a book about the Wood Wide Web, the underground network of mycorrhizal fungi that link trees underground, allowing them to communicate and share resources. But something in her past makes her afraid in the woods. When Liz persuades her to join a protest against the destruction of the trees to make way for a new superstore, Willow is forced to revisit a terrible memory and to begin the healing process.
Tanya Loretta Dee is funny and moving as Willow; unravelling from the patient pharmacist, with a wry and sometimes hilarious take on her customer’s inability to speak about body parts, to a damaged and vulnerable woman. Nadia Papachronopoulou’s direction and Quang Kien Van’s movement direction give her some nicely stylised physical tropes.
Amanda Boxer’s Liz is engaging, surprising the audience with her quirky eccentricities and swearing. The bad times in her past are revealed straight to the audience without her ever giving way to sympathy seeking. She is very funny, but there is a double layer in the comedy, as humour is a good deflector of sadness.
Papachronopoulou makes good use of Lia Waber’s outstanding set in her direction and allows the two characters to combine naturalism with just the right amount of stylisation. Jack Weir’s lighting design and Chris Drohan’s sound help to tell the story with some lovely atmospheric touches.
Although Boots is a strong production, it does feel as though too many problems have been crammed into the fabric of the play. An hour and fifteen minutes is not really long enough to carry a narrative that includes a dead baby, postnatal depression, racism, ageism, infertility, loneliness, rape, the destruction of nature, incontinence and other ageing related issues. Sacha Voit and Jessica Butcher have written a very good play. If they were to pare down the problems a bit they could turn it into an excellent one.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Tim Kelly
The Bunker until 16th March
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 31st October 2018
“Forgotten is a play which should most certainly take its place in our global collective memory”
Daniel York Loh’s play takes as its subject the forgotten contribution of the WW1 Chinese Labour Corps – approximately 140,000 in number – who supported the Allies and, in no small part, paved the way for the shaping of modern China. The cast of six take us on a journey from a rural village in China to 1920s Paris, by way of the trenches and a French munitions factory, and, for the most part, it is a compelling and enlightening ride. Three of Forgotten’s central protagonists are part of a rural theatre troupe, and the play begins with their stylised performance of a folk-tale, complete with the striking high pitch and rising cadence associated with Chinese opera. It is a clever device through which to catapult this 21st century London audience into a different world, and immediately emphasises how little we know of China and its history and traditions. This theatrical form was continually woven through the tapestry of the piece, with greater and lesser degrees of success, but at its best moments – the Eunuch Lin facing down German shell-fire with song and dance – was uniquely arresting. Credit must be given here to Quang Kien Van’s perfectly tuned movement direction, which so deftly transformed the villagers/soldiers into performers when the occasion demanded.
Emma Bailey’s excellent design, complemented by Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting and Luke Swaffield’s sound, artfully created the play’s various different worlds, and Kim Pearce (Director) ensured that the narrative rarely lost pace. There were some lovely performances to boot. This reviewer was particularly charmed by the open-faced and open-hearted Big Dog (engagingly played by Camille Mallet De Chauny), and the other-worldly innocence of the Eunuch Lin (beautifully portrayed by Zachary Hing). In many ways, the play’s central character is The Professor (Leo Wan). He is educated and aspirational, frequently railing against China’s status in the world and yearning for Western cultural and technological sophistication. He begins the piece as a hopeful optimist, convinced that once the fighting has died down, his country and his fellows will finally be given the golden ticket. Wan perfectly captures this sweet, earnest man and provides the play with some gentle but essential comedy moments – his explanation of the muddled alliance and origins of the war being a particular highlight. His final act of anger and defiance is the play’s most powerful image, and justifies the otherwise slightly limp final section, set in postwar Paris.
By shining a light, a hundred years after the end of the Great War, on the shameful omission of the CLC from the numerous narratives of Allied victory, Daniel York Loh’s Forgotten is a vital piece of theatre, and deserves a longer run and a larger stage. It is a complex piece, grappling with themes of colonialism, the price of technological progress, the plight of rural women, and, in a meta-theatrical fashion, the power and role of theatre itself. Occasionally the piece strains under the weight of this thematic density. The post-war exposition seems clumsy, and the play’s language – a melting pot of Confucian poetry, delicious archaic swearing, French and English – occasionally becomes overly dissonant and would benefit from a bit of editorial finesse. It is to be hoped that Loh can harness some further investment to keep working, because Forgotten is a play which should most certainly take its place in our global collective memory.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Jack Sain
Arcola Theatre until 17th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: