Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Sameera starts a journey on the new reality TV show Pole Factor. Her Pole Protests against the Conservative Muslims that describe her as a disgrace become a national campaign. Her relationship with boyfriend Max suffers badly because of the attention and publicity it is all bringing. She turns to fellow contestant Gina and finds her friendship with her is strong until Gina lets slip something about Sameera’s family’s past to the press. From there Sameera, now known as Coco, sees her life slip away and her ending is as sad as any tale of brutality, no matter what culture.
The relationships between Max and Sameera sit at the heart of this piece. His tolerating her involvement in Pole Factor is indicative of his acceptance of a strong woman until his old friend Hanif Ahmed, newly released from prison and now into religion visits. It forces Max to confront what is going on around him and being a naturally conservative thinking man he gets it all badly wrong. Being a typical man he also realises how much he wants Sameera at just the wrong time. The time bomb that is unleashed by Gina when she tells of Sameera’s mother’s suicide is compounded in the final week of the show when someone dies whilst trying to be part of Sameera’s Pole Protest. It leads her to fall apart in the Final, lose after Max has already turned on her abusing her till she turns to anyone for help. Unfortunately due to the Mosque in which he was sleeping being closed down (Due in part to the protests stirred up by Coco) Hanif has not been able to stay clean. He is now the next person to abuse her before society kicks right in with an acid attack about which we hear a report over the news. A final image of her at the pole in a hoodie is both poignant and highly effective.
This is something that shouldn’t work but it does. There are a lot of things that should feel preposterous about it but they don’t. This is a well written and assured script which has obviously been stretched and analysed properly. There are several places where we see nuances and nods that act as set ups for later. The only criticism that I did ponder was if Coco had police protection, how the police did not do something when Max kidnapped her. A minor point but I am sure that I won’t be the only one to think it.
All four actors as well as the actors who appear on the projections are seriously committed to this. Natasha Atherton caught the vulnerable brashness of Sameera whilst Ian Baksh had the measure of Max. Farhan Khan gave us a very good Hanif considering his role was essentially to provoke conflict and motor events forward whilst Fiona McGee continued to be impressive in her latest role as Gina.
There was little needed in terms of staging and the pole sat in the foreground as a reminder not only of the topic at hand but also of the performance element and voyeurism discussed within the play. I did, however feel that some of the direction was less assured than either the script or the performances. Pacing was loose at times and it could have done with tighter direction when more than two characters were onstage. It was, however a minor gripe.
You get to see so many young companies who are far less assured than this one is. It leaves you wondering if there is something amiss with our acting training or artistic education that we are not turning out more confident companies. This is certainly a company with a bright future on the evidence of this production. There is a clear vision and it is not clouded with being anything other than challenging in terms of its subject matter. As I reflected earlier there are things about this that are so preposterous they should instantly fail. That they do not is down to the script, performances and dedication of an entire team. There are a couple of areas that need some finesse but aside from that this works well indeed