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FringeReview UK 2022

Low Down

Directed by Imy Wyatt Corner, (designed by Caitlin Mawhinney) Lighting Design Catja Hamilton, Sound Designer Kayode Gomez Movement Direction Phoebe Hyder. Stage Manager Martin John Bristow.

Till July 18th


Privileged Ismail’s turning fifteen but is he really entitled? Maatin’s Duck expands to several takes of that word, but there’s no doubting the core fury. That score of runs, overs, wickets he stoops to click over, you realise, is telling you something more than scores. Ismail’s life ticks with real events.

Yet he’s about to become the youngest-ever member of his (Westminster-ish) school’s cricket team, immortalised in Wisden. But as the season starts, Mr Eagles, a South-African-born new coach threatens to derail his plans. ‘You’re out, boy!’ A run of two bad-luck ducks, both nothing to do with ability, hobble Smiley’s chances – the name everyone uses but uniquely Eagles doesn’t. Alone of all his team-mates, he’s ‘boy’. Something off? Talent, he’s told, is fleeting. He may be past his prime. But when he really does catch a ball brilliantly Eagles declares ‘not out’ and no-one speaks up for him.

In a bubbling seventy-minute solo play Gavi Singh Chera’s Ismail finds detail in, he not only registers other voices, but an emerging young adult unsure of his bearings, sure of racism which he’d never been before, and prone to ducks of his own: outbursts believable tantrums you see coming because they’re so well-laid.

Another play in JST’s second Footprints Festival, it’s pacily directed by Imy Wyatt Corner, and superbly designed as a miniature cricket pitch by Caitlin Mawhinney, there’s stunning Lighting by JST Festival Associate Catja Hamilton, which adds long shadows to those matches, and life. Kayode Gomez’ sound too not only bigs up those catches but adds a layer of commentary, one in Smiley’s head, as if imagining RP commentators onside and relating his life as an epic of stardom gone wrong. But there’s also… a peaceful place, St James Park, with yes the sound of ducks.

And consequences we only realise later, unravelling Smiley’s hands up turned into a Howzat. Movement direction by Phoebe Hyder is a sharp-run affair, Chera’s ability to turn an expression on a 20p piece caught in the half-lit shadows is a memorable takeaway from this Festival.

Chera’s a real find. Just out of NT’s Our generation he’s particularly good at conveying that cusp of excitement and joyful fellow-feeling soured straight away into petulance, righteous anger, vengeful acts. In particular he calibrates the right abridged anger towards Eagles, confused  warmth then fury at his teammates’ complicity, outright revenge when thwarted in several ways at a party, and panic most of all through his relationship with his cricket-loving father, who’s collected every Wisden since his arrival in 1970, on his study’s bookshop.

This is a man who understands core values of being, even more than the cricket he’s transmitted to Ismail. One that gives him back his name. And not only because he tells his son about Norman Tebbit, and that politician’s scarcely-concealed pronouncement that Indians in Britain should support England, not India. Though this year, surprisingly, England finally make good with the Ashes. Otherwise, as  his father points out, why support such a hopeless side? And he has a present for his son, which causes trouble.

Matin knows how to calibrate this brief odyssey of a summer. It recalls a similar summer for another character, Rabiah Hussain’s superb solo play Spun (Arcola, 2018), covering the same epochal ground (very differently) from the perspective of a young working-class Asian woman from Newham. Production values are high, Chera’s acting does the rest. A really impressively finished play, suggesting there’s a lot for Smiley to finish yet as Ismail. Do see it.