Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 16 April 2018
The Other. The Outcast. The Overlooked. The Visionary. Those who don’t ‘fit in’ with everyone else aren’t always appreciated in their lifetimes, but their impact is felt in the long run. This year’s UnderExposed 2018 celebrates these ‘others’ with ten short plays. Some of them are light-hearted, while others are more challenging and pose questions to the audience. All are entertaining and original.
The evening opens with How About Cannons!, a play written by David Vasdauskas and directed by Jonathon Carr. Most people, even if they’re not familiar with the minutiae of classical music, are aware of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – the one with the cannons. But how did he come up with the idea to do that? Or the Nutcracker ballet? What – or who – was his muse…?
Paul Boichat plays the eponymous composer, struggling for inspiration, while Richard Henderson plays his brother Modest. While his own successes may have been eclipsed by others, Modest’s gift to facilitate for other creative people ensures he leaves his ‘fingerprints’ across the arts…
In contrast to the throes of creativity in the 19th century, Taking the Rap – which is written by Anni Swinburn and directed by Emmanuel Akwafo – looks at one woman’s observations about the world and the changes that have occurred over the years. Randa Ray plays Ambrosine, a care worker who has two part-time jobs. As she has to cross town every day, during her travels she meets people from all walks of life. In some ways Taking the Rap reminded me of the monologues that used to run on The Real McCoy – a 1990s sketch show that predominantly featured BAME comedians.
While Ambrosine gets on with everyone, she notices that there’s some behaviour within society that is off-kilter. Some people adopt the misogynist and racially-derogatory phrases in rap music in everyday speak, and don’t see what offence can be drawn from its use. At the other end of the spectrum, lip service to ‘diversity’ is very ‘woke’ now, but have things actually changed for the better? While Ambrosine doesn’t have a particular point to make, her observations are simultaneously humorous and ‘on point’.
In 1967, Sidney Poitier famously starred as ‘the guest’ in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, which for its time was daring for depicting an African-American engaged to a Caucasian woman from an affluent family. In For the Love of Noodles – which is written by Joe Starzyk and directed by Lydia Parker – the idea for this has been updated, which while amusing, gets its point across.
Shirley (Nesha Crenshaw) and Dexter (Morgan Deare) are excited at the prospect of their daughter Maya (Meghan Martin) visiting. Not just because they love her, but because they imagine she may be bringing her ‘significant other’ as well. As the epitome of liberalism, they are enthusiastic at the prospect of Maya dating a person of ‘colour’, a lesbian, or better yet a woman of colour who is a lesbian(!) However, the person Maya introduces is… a surprise. My money was on the other person being a hardline NRA/Trump supporter – the antithesis of the parents’ liberal principles. However, Maya’s ‘significant other’ isn’t necessarily what anybody expects, and in some ways the parents’ reasons for being uncomfortable are both very silly AND relatable. Even for the most liberal people, nobody is open-minded about everything…
Sometimes life-changing events begin with a conversation. In Wholefoods – which is written by Charles Leipart and directed by Monique Touko – we meet Paige (Sadie Pepperell) and Malcom (Tej Obano). Enjoying his fried chicken on the steps of the tenement building he lives in, Malcom is met by Paige who has her groceries and ambivalent about her feelings for her husband. By the time their conversation ends, Paige’s perspective has taken a U-turn, ready to begin the next chapter of her life.
If there’s a subject that’s rich in buried emotions and subtext, it is funerals and their aftermath. In A La Carte – which is written by Richard Woulfe and directed by Clare Langford – we meet Terry (Edwin Flay) and Eric (Chris Pybus). Eric was ‘happily’ married to Clem (Cameron Bell), but unbeknownst to Eric, Clem had been sleeping with Terry – before AND after his marriage. So who really knows Clem and what was he really like?
One of the topics that Donald Trump is unequivocally associated with is draconian standards for immigration. In Coming To America – which is written and directed by Theo Hristov – we meet a young man who is having to answer numerous questions. The man (Hristov) however, meets his match with Eve Carson who plays the immigration officer. While Carson’s IO isn’t necessarily a ‘hardcase’, her line of questioning progresses from the banal to the downright intrusive. Why exactly would any want to live in America now, but NOT choose to be a US citizen..?
Arguably the most thought-provoking play of the evening, The Petal and the Orchid – which is written by Clare Langford & Gabrielle Curtis, and directed by Cat Robey – is prescient in terms of what’s happened at Oxfam in recent months. Working for a charity that tries to protect young girls overseas in vulnerable circumstances, Leona (Gabrielle Curtis) goes to see her line manager Kathryn (Rina Mahoney) about an urgent matter. She requests that David who is senior to both of them, shouldn’t accompany her on the imminent field trip. Factors such as pre-feminist cultures naturally show a deference to men are brought up in her argument. However, the real clincher is that David and Leona share a ‘history’ – something that will affect the job at hand and Leona personally… The Petal and the Orchard asks uncomfortable questions about personal responsibility and the ‘greater good’, and on how the #MeToo movement weighs up against what women have to put up with in the Third World.
The next play of the evening also deal with a serious subject, but rather than broaching it realistically, it tackles it in a light-hearted, anthropomorphic fashion. Written by Stanley Toledo and directed by Jodi Burgess, Gun Jr Leaves Home ‘does what it says on the tin’. Gun Jr (Will Adolphy) tell his parents Mr Gun (Stephen Riddle) and Mrs Gun (Alma Reising) that he’s moving to France. This news alarms them no end as gun laws are very different in Europe and Jr ‘won’t be able to be himself’. Compounding the parents’ fears is the news that Gun Jr wants to turn his back on his ‘heritage’ and instead train to become a chef. And who is responsible for his turnaround in thinking? His new girlfriend Miss Precious Poem (Roisin Moore)…. A clever way of addressing US gun culture and the unwillingness of some branches of society to lead a gun-free existence.
The screwball comedies of the 1930s and ’40s featured the battle of the sexes, with witty repartee and the couple in question secretly fond of each other. While not immediately obvious, these elements are present in the next play. Written by Charlotte Stanton and directed by Sonnie Beckett, Pit and The Pretender sees Daphne (Rachel Scurlock) and George (Nick Pearse) pitted against each other. Daphne is the host of a radio show, while George is there to talk about his new book. Except he’s hardly written a word. Plus he’s drunk and uncooperative. So why is he there? Perhaps because they share a past…
The evening closes with Flash, which is written by Robertino Patilea and directed by Alistair Wilkinson. Andy McCredie plays Ben, a young man whose natural proclivity is to expose himself to various women. They are never ‘random’, because in his askewed mind they are giving him ‘come on’ signals to do so. But one day he meets ‘the One’ – a woman who is the ‘ying’ to his ‘yang’… Had it been written and directed differently, Ben would not have been a funny or sympathetic character. However, in this case there are no sinister undertones, as Ben’s quite jovial and we realise that the women he meets don’t see him as a threat but someone to be pitied (and giggled at!). He also has the distinction of being banned from all his local supermarkets!