Lovers, Tobi and Gabe are building a life together. When Tobi’s cousin Mya crashes into his home, she brings along both her dreams and her baggage. While Tobi tries to hold on to Gabe, he struggles to support Mya when he can’t seem to support himself.
bricks and pieces is a new commission by RADA, in association with tiata fahodzi, by Charlene James, award-winning writer of Cuttin’ It. It is a story about the places we escape into, the other worlds we build and the icons we cling to.
Tiata Fahodzi are a company who make theatre about black African life in Britain, and I enjoyed their piece I Know All The Secrets In My World at last year’s Latitude festival, which explored themes of loss and masculinity.
It seems that Bricks and Pieces picks up on both of these themes, and also weaves the challenges of being a gay man with African parents into the story. This piece’s style is naturalistic, and as with last year’s play the set is very domestic and prosaic, save for some impressive Lego models of famous landmarks.
At the start of the piece we see Tobi and his partner Gabe living together, loving each other, and fighting about his reticence to come out to his parents. Gabe loves Lego and has made many models that have garnered great acclaim on the Lego geek forums.
Tobi has a cousin, Mya, who has left her husband and needs a place to crash. She is bubbly and talkative and clearly very lonely and bereft, and Tobi reluctantly allows her to stay but pushes her away emotionally. For many scenes it’s quite confusing as to where Gabe has gone, and the audience is led to surmise that Tobi feels so pressured not to come out to his cousin that Gabe has moved out or is somehow hiding.
I can understand why it’s desirable not to spell everything out to an audience, but in some ways this felt unnecessarily misleading, as it is not until the marvellous character of Otis (Gabe’s brother) comes into the play that we finally realise Gabe has died and the play’s timeline is jumping around somewhat.
This is in many ways a play about communication and the importance and lack of it. Mya is desperate to reach out to Tobi, who is lost in his grief and dealing with it in the only way he knows how: by shutting down and shutting out the world. Mya is also suffering and her raw and broken life is heartbreaking to watch.
The characters were the real star of the show, well drawn and very well performed by the cast. My absolute favourite was Otis, played by David Jonsson, who was charming and open heartedly sweet and kind, but the pain and sadness in his eyes was almost too much to bear.
This play didn’t offer redemption or a happy ending, but that was fitting, as you were left with the sense of the tragedy and messiness of life, which affects us all in the end.