FringeReview UK 2017
On the Fordham Gallery Barge moored near Westbourne Park, Meanwhile Gardens on the Regent’s Canal, Natasha Langridge re-enacts her own In Memory of Leaves updated from a run last year to include this year’s tumultuous events. Langridge works with Jayne McVeigh on supple fluid movement through the barge’s space, and Lisa Goldberg’s dramaturgy perhaps helps to tighten and interrogate the appalling assault of real events on the earlier vehicle.
On the Fordham Gallery Barge moored near Westbourne Park, Natasha Langridge re-enacts her own In Memory of Leaves updated from a run last year to include this year’s tumultuous events – from Occupy Democracy and protesting at the destruction of trees and her own house, to an election and Grenfell, in the very borough she lives in. It would be impossible not to respond to these, and inevitably it skews everything, not necessarily for the worse either.
So it’s a play of two climaxes in several senses, a work overtaken by time both attesting to its urgency and zeitgeist, and showing how any such timely structure yaws like the barge it’s acted on. It’s a unique experience, where Langridge works with Jayne McVeigh on supple fluid movement through the barge’s space, and Lisa Goldberg’s dramaturgy perhaps helps to tighten and interrogate the appalling assault of real events on the heart of an already powerfully-freighted play.
Transparently about an actor who really does get arrested for protesting the massacre of trees outside her home and the destruction of that home, there’s small space for Langridge to hide. So she doesn’t, coming out voluptuously funny and undeniably sexy. Having evocatively set the scenes with such delicate threnodies for her park: ‘Where city lovers steal a kiss in the chaos of London mornings’ she confronts her commitment-phobic lover Korea-bound and us with such one-liners as ‘I took a photograph of my breasts. They were magnificent.’
More important than the on-off with the lover or the slightly un-reconstructed thirty-seven year old drama student, lies the whys of Langridge’s motivation in a diary-led narrative of her life entwining activism with sex lessons for undeveloped men. This picaresque treatment certainly compels interest, with occasional six-month gaps, though it doesn’t provide more than a snapshot of a life long decided, from 2014-17. In other words Langridge as Langridge doesn’t present her own motivation in dramatic form, we’re a long way through such process and clues as to even mild radicalising aren’t present. Brief backstory would help. What impelled either Langridge or ‘Langridge’ the construct to engage in activism? The trees certainly, but the Occupy movement isn’t primarily about that space. There’s an intersection here worth sketching in.
So the first climax is intriguing: Langridge’s work in the Calais jungle. It’s a fine study in alienation and Langridge’s dramatic power occasions a terrible moment when after days of working with and for refugees, attempting to find an Adidas size 42 (she does) Langridge suddenly feels a revulsion against refugees for occasioning her own grief, her own as it were alien status from herself. This explodes almost out of nowhere but is prepared for. We almost finished here in 2016, and it would have been unnerving, an unusual self-interrogation by an activist.
Conversely we’ve had fifteen months since the play’s first incarnation, and what’s been jettisoned in this hour-length piece might have been just the motivations apparently lacking. As it is, the terrible months from May onwards only underscore the abolition of personal space, literally to breathe the way we’re allowed to be leaves and the memory of leaves, choked here with the ash falling on everything after Grenfell.
Again Langridge is particularly fine at evoking this, a quiet overlooked moment of poignancy: the woman who seeks out and returns cats to owners, or where these have died, Battersea cat’s home. Or the volunteer therapist before anyone official has arrived brimming with PTSD packs. Langridge’s scoring of voice and image rasps beautifully in a Piaf-inflected celebration; occasionally a subtler pitch.
There’s a potential here for something grander though. Locating this play on a barge suggests surely a use of its trope, a splash over the side by skipper Man Somerlinck or ASM, perhaps the comic denouement of an inadequate lover, or a police raid (blackout, torches) such as my companion here, a barge owner, actually experienced, as well as being suspect for green tendencies. Barge activism is a respected tradition and if you’re gifted such an immersive site-specific venue, a realtively quick rewrite (months in preparation) would have struck wonders for immediacy, engagement and the hypnotic yaw of the boat itself.
Langridge indeed states: ‘I want those social-housing tenants who are living in fear of being chucked out of their homes to come see the show. I want boaters to come.’ Exactly, it’s crying out to be moulded away from the personal to the imagined. This is where drama’s licence might push off from autobiography to launch as it were a visceral truth from the specifics of its occasion.
Langridge moves well, eyeballs the audience and rolls in imagined duvets with ever-disappointing men with cheerful aplomb. There’s briefer delicacy as Langridge hauntingly crisps the memory of soon-squelched leaves, a description of a tree with no rings in it. Quiet devastation at the loss of her house early on, and the eggshell dust of its crushing are moulded to flinched elegy. Her voice though uncertain in the acoustics of the barge rather often explodes into shoutiness as if not sure yet of register or effect. It’s something soon trimmed in later performances. This is a fine, necessary work inevitably in progress. Let it settle in the water a bit more, and glitter.