Reviewed – 2nd July 2019
“Structurally, the show was rather like an album, comprised of different tracks, but, aside from the closing piece, they all sounded pretty much the same”
Grey is an intensely personal show. Written by Koko Brown, who is also one of the two performers, it is an autobiographical account of her own struggles with depression. It is honest, and it is real, and Koko herself radiates warmth, strength, fragility and creativity. To sit in the audience with a notebook and pen felt intrusive, as if I was being asked to critique her pain. So, to be clear: it is the artistic shaping of that pain that is being written about here. Nothing can take away from the truth and validity of Koko Brown’s lived experience.
The show has a simple format. Koko shares the stage with another performer, Sapphire Joy, who interprets – through a mixture of sign language and signifying gesture – what she is saying. Or at least, sometimes that’s what she does. Sapphire busts out of her interpreter role on occasion, to directly challenge or confront Koko’s narrative, though still remaining in the realm of sign and gesture. Sapphire also signs the music. Koko mixes live beats throughout, using her loop station, and frequently sings over the top, and one of the real pleasures of this piece was watching Sapphire Joy physically embody those sounds. Fantastic work, and another instance in which Shelley Maxwell’s superb movement direction shines.
The integration of a signing performer into the work felt exciting, and provided some welcome moments of theatre, especially when the two women interacted, although there were also a few sections of unspoken dialogue which were unclear to the audience, and which, judging by the animation of the performers, it seemed a shame to be missing out on. There was also a terrific section towards the end of the show in which the poetry rose up out of the narrative and Koko then opened her voice into a great howl of pain, triumph and pure being. Unfortunately, these moments were little and late.
Making a perfomance piece about depression is always going to be problematic, as it is a condition of repetitive stasis, which is inherently undramatic; this conundrum wasn’t resolved here, and the show lacked pace and tonal variety. The enforced gaiety which is clearly exhausting for the sufferer, was equally exhausting for the audience, and went on for far too long. Also, the theatrical elements in the staging – giant hanging origami birds, for example – seemed completely arbitrary. Structurally, the show was rather like an album, comprised of different tracks, but, aside from the closing piece, they all sounded pretty much the same.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Mariana Feijó
Ovalhouse until 13th July
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 6th June 2019
“a tribute to the true soul of carnival, one that has us honour its significance while we dance in our seats.”
Carnival means many things to many people. Nadine hears the spirits of her ancestors reclaiming the streets they weren’t allowed to call their own. This year, they will guide her as she competes for her chance to be seen. Jade sees a community under threat. Persuaded by her activist friend Nisha, she plans to deliver a speech encouraging people to make their voices heard. But the carnival is not the safe and joyful place it was when they were children. As their big moment edges closer, Nadine and Jade are forced to confront the dark side of home.
Cramming the whole of Notting Hill Carnival into Theatre503 might seem like an impossible task, but Rebekah Murrell’s production manages it with ease. Writer Yasmin Joseph paints an evocative picture of busy streets and sensory overloads, with locals jostling for space among curious outsiders. There are snapshots of the carnival from all sides: belligerent neighbours, nosey journalists, street vendors holding the same spot they have occupied for fifty years. Although the stage itself is relatively plain – adorned with Caribbean flags and minimal set pieces – Joseph’s script fizzes with energy that fills every corner of the space.
There is plenty of social commentary, some overt and some extremely subtle. The girls are fetishised for their race (‘you two look proper tropical,’ says one charmer) and slut-shamed by the men they reject. Carnival goers since childhood, they lament the rising price of old favourites and the influx of rich white hipsters. Nisha prides herself on being politically aware but, next to veteran activists, she seems hopelessly naïve. Scenes will often pause to make way for soca music, or end with a sudden outburst of movement. The integration of real carnival atmosphere shows the value of incorporating seemingly non-theatrical elements into plays; not only does it elevate Joseph’s script, but makes the whole thing all the more enjoyable.
The acting is assured, the dynamic between Sharla Smith (Nadine), Sapphire Joy (Jade), and Annice Bopari (Nisha) is incredibly natural. Smith and Joy slip in and out of characters with ease, playing seventy-year-old street vendors with the same vivacity as they do their central roles. Bopari is endearing as Nisha, prompting laughter at her over-earnestness and sympathy for her isolation.
Of the three, Nisha feels a little underdeveloped, her story a little vague. It would have been great to hear more about her connection to carnival and motivation for her activism in greater depth. But this is only a minor criticism, one that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the performance. J’ouvert is a tribute to the true soul of carnival, one that has us honour its significance while we dance in our seats.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Helen Murray
Theatre503 until 22nd June
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: