Archive for January, 2022

Conundrum (Young Vic Theatre)

Posted: January 20, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Marc Brenner

Writer and director: Paul Anthony Morris

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As children, we believe that anything is possible, that we can become whatever we choose and that no obstacles will stand in our way. Looking back at those aspirations in middle age, how many of us will feel disappointed? Conundrum is a new 75-minute one-act play, written and directed by Paul Anthony Morris, which explores the gulf between childhood dreams and adult reality.

Fidel (Anthony Ofoegbu, articulating the character’s thoughts as in a monologue) was a child of the 1970s. Now, in lockdown, he sifts through old diary entries, exam results and letters of rejection for jobs which all give as their reason that he is “over-qualified”. The papers are put through the shredder. He strains to recall the sort of facts learned at school that prove to be useless in later life, adding them to a jumble of words laid across the stage floor in Sean Cavanagh’s design. 

Confidently, Fidel boasts that he was ten times brighter than any other kid, but he offers little corroboration and Morris never reveals whether he had been just a cocky brat or a genuine talent who had gone on to under-achieve. Further, we are not told precisely how Fidel has been a disappointment as an adult, but we see him driven by his perceived failures to a mental breakdown, needing to be injected with sedatives by a psychiatrist (Filip Krenus). He perceives his fate as having been pre-ordained by the circumstances into which he was born and which would always remain outside his control.

Ofoegbu grabs this rather depressing piece by the throat and delivers a performance of intense visceral power, heightened by balletic movement directed by Shane Shambhu. So remarkable is the actor that he produces the presumably unwanted effect of making this production of a play, which is built on a thin and somewhat obvious premise, seem overblown. When Fidel states that he has been a victim of racism (so indoctrinated with it that he had contributed to his own failures), it feels as if Morris is throwing in a weighty theme almost as an afterthought and the ideas which could arise from it are never properly developed.

“I know who I am” exclaims Fidel repeatedly, as if reaching this point is equal to unearthing the meaning of life, but Morris does not invite the audience to share in his discovery. Posing unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions, the play is profoundly puzzling. It is a tough watch, but, nonetheless, Ofoegbu is spellbinding.

Performance date: 19 January 2022

Folk (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs)

Posted: January 5, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Robert Day

Writer: Nell Leyshon

Director: Roxana Silbert

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In the age of streaming, music can become everyone’s property within seconds of it being made available, but, in the not too distant past, songs were not written down or recorded. They belonged to individuals, families and communities, passed down from generation to generation. Nell Leyshon’s new two-act play, receiving its world premiere here, explores the place of traditional folk songs in rapidly changing times.

It is 1903 in rural Somerset and sisters Lucy and Louie occupy a small squatters’ cottage from which they work as glove makers. Their mother has died recently, leaving her songs implanted firmly in Louie’s head. While Lucy flirts with local boy John and plots an escape into the wider world, Louie mourns and she eventually meets a visiting academic, Sharp. He claims that Scotland, Wales and Ireland all have traditional folk songs, but not England, so he makes it his mission to discover the songs that define the English nation, put them onto paper and rearrange them.

In this studio theatre, Rose Revitt’s design has a strong Autumnal feel, suggesting the end of an era and director Roxana Silbert’s gently paced, un-melodramatic production underlines the sense of loss. A glove making factory is moving in to take the sisters’ work and popular entertainment is threatening to claim their mother’s songs. Their traditional ways of life are being swept away in a tidal wave of industrial and commercial forces..

Mariam Haque is outstanding as Louie, sorrowful, withdrawn and seemingly of low intellect, but finding steely resolve to defend what she believes to be her heritage. She also sings the songs sweetly, although, sadly, we hear too few of them. Simon Robson gives Sharp an air of educated arrogance, which is countered by the character’s admission of his own lack of musical talent. Sasha Frost as Lucy and Ben Allen as John make a zestful couple, hoping to improve their lives and become a spur for inevitable change.

At the heart of the play lie conflicting arguments between Sharp and Louie for progress and preservation, both presented by Leyshon in articulate form (perhaps more articulate than would be consistent with the character of a “simple” country girl). However the family drama in which the debates are encased feels too flimsy and contrived to be gripping and the play ends up as quietly charming, but short of dramatic substance.

Performance date: 4 January 2022