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FringeReview UK 2022

Low Down

Directed by Ebenezer Bambgoye, designed by Caitlin Mawhinney Lighting Design Catja Hamilton, Sound Designer Tony Gayle Movement Direction Adi Gortler and Sacha Plaige.

Production manager Lucy Mewis-McKerrow, Stage Manager Heather Smith, Production Technician Edward Callow, Graphic Designer Ciaran Walsh, Production Photographer Steve Gregson, PR David Burns.

Till July 30th



Imagine opening a package in Belarus recently and finding a Green card, better than a passport. More: ‘In the morning they’ll shut the streets. Begin the arrests. If I don’t board the flight tonight, I’ll be here forever.’ And Dasha has a past. Once she was an anarchist. All that’s behind her, isn’t it?

Originally from Kazakhstan, Karina Widman’s lived in Russia, Belarus, now the UK. The Anarchist is her first play, winning Woven Voices’ first prize for a play by an immigrant. Looking at other finalists it’s a unique award: a vibrantly challenging shake-up of our theatre. Jermyn Street’s season features four diverse winners and Woven’s other finalists are getting a read-through.

Nothing with a Green card runs smooth. After thirty years’ loyal service all Dasha needs is her pay packet early enough to buy a one-way to JFK. Now middle-aged, middle-management she’s ordered by her boss who’s never once said ‘thank you’ to quell the anti-government protests in her factory by firing sixty workers. Whom she’s known forever. Even when she spies a clever way out, Dasha can’t flee memories of her anarchist youth in the late 1980s resisting the Soviets. Now Belarus is heading to the polls, something plucks at Dasha.

Headlining the second JST Footprints Festival it’s an explosive yes, rooted in recent history. Directed by JST Associate Ebenezer Bambgoye The Anarchist  is a play of insistent reawakenings designed on a simple stage by Caitlin Mawhinney and lit by Catja Hamilton featuring disco lights, police blue, factory and red for other dangers. , Sound Designer Tony Gayle’s sound features late 80s tracks and a sense of place and occasion. With an empty space it’s effective.  Movement by Adi Gortler and Sacha Plaige is by turns ritualistic realist and iconic as in the last arrested shot. Most of all the opening, as Dasha’s dealt blows by her parents, and towards the end, set on by police.

The play’s narrator Scarlet Brookes’ Dasha, herself carries the burden of storytelling brio, as we get a more or less chronological sequence of flashbacks, though sometimes as towards the end, a stray illuminator of Dasha aged six lurches us back somewhere else. It’s of those narrative-heavy genres you often find in works of this length: and Brookes’ achievement is not to let that energy flag. There’s dialogue with others but this is all held by Wiedman as interpolation. So we get an illustrated guide, not a complete drama: perfect for an hour-length.

Brookes rapt focus on Dasha’s story is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, related with an urgent tug towards the airport, and an equally strong one backwards. At its heart is a superbly-wrought dilemma, and its resolution makes you cheer.

Brookes’ Dasha can be an ingenue, an upbraider of mysterious scratches on her mother’s back; a suddenly experienced lover, a passionate anarchist. And most of all Brookes conveys the wrung-dry woman looking back and judging distances; wry grandmother and outraged workmates. Apart from Dasha there’s seventeen often fleeting characters.

Elisabeth Sengiar slips into a multitude of female roles: Dasha’s mother, best friend Katya and others including distraught factory workers. As mother Sengiar brings a soft focus with sudden dark lights turned up hard; scenes reveal the depth of their attachment, as well as teenage challenges. As Katya, sassy friend and would-be sophsiticate emerges as more sympathetic in Sengiar’s hands than Joe might portray her. The strawberry jam and virginity test is both unnervingly funny and should spark outrage.

Ojan Genc’s male roles include her father, the Boss, Ruslan her sexy insouciant first lover (a pivotal scene lasting the mid-stretch) and most of all anarchist Joe who eventually wants to have a family too. Flexing his muscles as a young man Genc with a coat-switch conveys the seedy petulance of Dasha’s Boss; and lowers with menacing stillness.

In storytelling that moves like a muscle of water, Brookes’ sinewy central character undergoes an immersion in a past that bids to reclaim her just as she’s leaving. Which way will Dasha turn? With anarchy again in the air, she runs into Joe for a literally explosive climax.

Excellent acting, and taut direction, this feels like a bigger play than one hour, and doubtless it could be told less expositionally: with a luxury of casting and  more elaborate props, but not so tautly. A firecracker of a first play. Expect Molotovs.