16th November 2022
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne
This production from Sore Slap Theatre is a beautiful piece of writing and performance, wonderfully directed and choreographed with music and lighting that fits beautifully as it moves. Performed and presented utterly engagingly, I am glad to have seen it.
A two-person show, a young Irish accented woman and a Black man, in the “not too distant future” in an “unknown land” but much is familiar somehow. This pair share adjoining cells in a prison and share their stories over the hour of the show – both starting by feeling totally estranged but by talking with each other they navigate a passage for their hearts.
She it seems has shot someone in panic whilst running from being judged insane and a bad forced marriage. He has a sorry story of how he has been hooked into a world of crime made inescapable by circumstance. Both traumatised. As they point out it’s pointless to blame somehow, but as the show develops, as they share their stories, they are witnessed by another and maybe in some way by themselves for the first time. And they are both good story tellers, their lyricism makes their journeys through seas of misunderstanding (deliberate and not), prejudice and hatred all the starker. It becomes clear their worlds are worlds that are not for them – he due to his place in a ghetto and how others demand to use him in that, to keep him there and how the social system he is within also demands to see him; she due to denial of her humanity as a gay person and insistence, familial, social, psychiatric that she fit in in their terms.
It is conveyed poetically, lyrically, immediately with their words and also beyond words with interludes of music and a sort of dance between them that says so much that is unsayable of the weights they carry, of the yearnings they have within. Often humorous too and several moments and conclusions very memorable “like the wind”. The tenderness of this empathic journey drew me in bit by bit, I lost all track of time, I was with them, feeling their cages (real and those of the spirit).
They know they have no material chance really, even when they get to the end of their sentences – that they are fated to run through social mazes of others’ creation – yet they get somewhere real when witnessed and understood by another and somehow unlock something. There is hope. I thought of Milton’s lines ‘The melting voice through mazes running / Untwisting all the chains that tie / the hidden soul of harmony’, though their position is not Elysian . There is a greatness to it, to their hearts. Both seem so capable of doing just that (untwisting those ties) but have been deliberately prevented from it, oppressed, tied down by circumstances that seem designed to disallow just that basic human need for freedom to love and act in love.
It has a sort of existentialism that is capable of finding hope for the heart, Sisyphus smiling, Orpheus rising, when all seems hopeless, to light in the darkness. So, it will resonate all over this world. I want to see it again. There was a full house when I was there and I’d agree, I feel it is unmissable . . . though yes we live in a world part full of people not getting it, not seeing it, diverted from their hearts. Maybe I’m in Cloudcuckooland to think all would gain from it what I see, there are the haters or those just locked in and locking others in. But anyone at all marginalised will feel these stories, as will anyone with an open heart. Many may be encouraged to keep theirs open by it. Encourage yourself, see it.
Writer/Performer Rhian Jade (they/them)
Writer/Performer Papi Jeovani (he/him)
Director/Tech Operator Rosie Bowden (she/her)
Choreographer Marshal Siziba (he/him)
Producer Gina Ruffin (she/her)
Photographer/Videographer Benjamin Michael Smith (he/him)