FringeReview UK 2018
Hoxton Hall mounts a triple-bill of shorts in different venues throughout its space. Franca Rame and Dario Fo’s five short plays from 1977, Female Parts are a bit too long for a single evening. Usually they’re performed in quartets or trios. There’s a trio tonight, but only two of them are Female Parts. A third, the last and longest is The Immigrant, OneNess Sakara’s play substituted by director Karena Johnson. Each of the trio inhabits three separate spaces, where The Immigrant is mounted in the theatre itself. They’re all designed by Libby Watson, lit by Sherry Coenan with Andrew Williams’ sound features discreet effects and songs. Aerial consultants Krista Vuori and Vicki Amedume, with Kala Simpson’s stage managing orchestrate The Immigrant.
Adult Orgasm Escapes from the Zoo. That title, from the 1983 version of one of the plays presented here summarises what you can expect. Sadly, subversion has to be rationed. Franca Rame and Dario Fo’s five short plays from 1977, Female Parts are a bit too long for a single evening. Usually they’re performed in quartets or trios. There’s a trio tonight, but only two of them are Female Parts.
A third, the last and longest is The Immigrant, OneNess Sakara’s play substituted by director Karena Johnson. Each of the trio inhabits three separate spaces, where The Immigrant is mounted in the theatre itself. They’re all designed by Libby Watson, lit – and The Immigrant thrives on this – by Sherry Coenan with Andrew Williams’ sound features discreet effects and songs. The Immigrant is the only one with a definite article too, and its register is different: but it fits in neatly. The adult orgasm slips in by the way, under its original, best-known title A Woman Alone. Here it’s subtitled The Adulteress reinforcing the essness of female oppression (actress, sculptress, poetess and so on, reductive diminutives of the real thing).
A Woman Alone
This is what kicks off in a bijou space upstairs with a bay window, where Gillian Henna’s translation shrewdly updates the original. It’s still hilarious and gets every laugh – and remains the best-known of the five plays. No longer an Italian but a young Turkish woman, played by Gehane Strehler, she meditates on her incarceration. And her options. There aren’t many. There’s a brother-in-law she’s looking after. He’s encased in plaster from head to foot and able only to move one hand, with which he attempts to molest her. There’s a hammering lover for which she’s been incarcerated by her husband, and her neighbour to whom she confesses all this out of the window where he too is peeping on her. It helps this is a real window and she ash a real gun, and you know what happens with those on stage.
If sexuality’s been an option, it now doesn’t seem more than another mode of repression. And sex? Why can’t we say ‘reaching for the chair’ for orgasm? Strehler’s character wonders. This works in an environment where womens’ sexuality is still policed. Europe generally has move don since 1977 but her question still burns.
Strehler’s brilliance in physical theatre leaps- literally – onto this in her frenetic workings-out of plot, and options till these tighten theatrically and verbally to a noose from which there’s only one escape but several actions needed. Strehler’s eloquence lies in her frenetic physicality. The problem is men, and as it happens this woman has the means to act on every one of her impulses. When she acts you want to cheer. But since there aren’t spoilers here you’ll have to see it! Strehler’s only challenge, and ere she should have been given the right direction, is that she starts shouting very early very often and thus ahs nowhere to go with her voice. More light and shade’s needed and this can surely settle in during the run. Her balletic solutions however are a delight.
There’s a subtitle, The Terrorist, which might seem a bit misleading, since the protagonist isn’t the terrorist in question. Or – well, what might happen afterwards?
Rebecca Saire’s space is a very simple in-the -round with a floor covered in Sun and Mail headlines. A voice on TV says ‘terrorist’ captured and the photo is of your own son. He’s shot and badly wounded a policeman who’s recovering; but his comrades have killed others.
Ed Emery’s update of this takes us from the 1970s Red Brigade (something Fo and Rame cusped by their avowed anarchism) to the more horrible topicality we live under now. It’s right that this isn’t de-secularised either, but suggests the son is part of the Occupy Movement gone radical. Another friend ended up a heroin addict. That’s key to this monologue which Saire delivers in unvarnished intimacy only feet from us. It’s a quiet tour-de-force and proves the highlight of the evening.
Saire narrates the utterly beleaguered state of a woman now demonized and strip-searched with all orifices examined as she enters prison to visit her son even though she’s gone through all the metal detectors. It’s part of a police/state attempt to criminalise, humiliate and break even relatives who’ve nothing to do with the terrorism perpetrated by their children or siblings. She’s far more alone, you feel, than the woman locked in with the means of exercising freedom. You wonder what the two women might say to each other on that subject.
This isn’t a ply with an easy resolution, but it comes in any case through a dream. Saire’s character has met up with one woman who’s even more afflicted; the mother of that heroin addict, once a star of the Occupy Movement who’s lost his mojo and destroyed his family. She’d now kill him. Saire’s dream, where she stands in the dock with her now five year old son accused of terrorist charges and promises to look after him – only he escapes – is the part that touches nightmare. When she retrieves him, it’s not eh son but this other young man. What she wishes to do as the force of two womens’ lived experiences.
Towards the end there’s a use of two pre-recorded voices which intrudes on Saire’s solo brilliance. I wonder if these could have been internalise and vocalised by Saire, though I’ve not got the original text to hand.
Saire’s lived-in expressions and her capacity to reduce everything to a pin-dropping shudder makes this perhaps the most compelling reason to see this trilogy.
Clare Perkins in harness as she jumps about and somersaults weightless in space on the main Hoxton stage is a memory that will linger, perhaps longest in those who enjoyed the scarifying spectacle of her vaulting over their heads, before being swung back by gravity as she enacted gravity-defiance to the backdrop of a space station. A glass-fronting window cone gives on to a curve of the earth as she orbits 240,000 feet above it, lighting up and down at junctures.
As well as Perkins, whose energy – verbal and physical – never flags during this bravura display, aerial consultants Krista Vuori and Vicki Amedume, and Kala Simpson’s stage managing must be congratulated for mounting such a spectacle.
Ama is the first black woman in space. She’s up there to deliver a lecture beamed directly to her old school where her school-friend is now principal. Everyone’s wanting to hear how this old school astronaut who started as an engineering lecturer at University of the West Undies has vaulted further; in fact into the visible spiral of the space station. She’s inspired everyone – except her family; crucially, her daughter.
It’s a detailed monologue engaging in terrific skirling rhyme. Returning after a British education Ama’s acquired a builder husband and a mother’s disapproval. Nevertheless they unite in telling her the fun’s over; time to be a mother. She’s produced one child; enough. Apart from Ama wisely skipping over how she got into engineering she relates her first failed attempt in finally being taken on for the space programme. Soon though Ama’s daughter joins in the chorus of disapproval. It’s this conflict that makes Sankara’s story both absorbing to a degree, and often exhilarating. This has the potential to be a masterly solo work, especially staged as it is.
The only problem is, Sanakra doesn’t edit her exuberance, or discriminate between her virtuosity and need to tell a story, which she repeats in slightly differing guises. The monologue’s often pitched in heltering rhyme-tails, sometimes rapped in urgent corusactions of wit and stab. Her repeated jabs at patriarchy never wear thin; the number of times she can cheerfully use ‘cock’ dazzle and never pall.
There’s a genuine pull-through of narrative, a crisis point about pulling the plug, not broadcasting. Ama’s decision is partly based on knowing the woman she stands most in solidarity with is her old school-friend. Ama’s perceived failures as a mother are laid bare in a letter she reads out from her daughter, who’s wholly unimpressed by Ama’s achievements and won’t be watching if she can help it. Ama’s breakthrough moments are exhilarating; the way she moves throughout this performance is a gravity-free analogue to her journey and its resolutions.
Sankara’s text needs editing down by at least ten minutes, removing repetitions where end-rhyme leads to a feeding frenzy of synonyms. It’s infectious and engaging; a little compression won’t hurt, even 240,000 feet up. Most of all, as an infectiously original monologue it deserves a further life: trimming seems the best way to secure it.