Theatre503, London – until 18 June 2022
An Optimist’s Take:
Children’s TV performer Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.” Though horrific events drive Joel Tan’s eon-spanning play, it celebrates those who get us through the worst of times.
Four actors (Jules Chan, Pandora Colin, Pía Laborde-Noguez and Daniel York Loh) play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by survivorship and hope.
The cumulative effect of these people and their experiences is one where they blur into each other regardless of when and where their scenes unfold, but this doesn’t matter. It also tests the limits of each actor’s range with varying results – some characters aren’t particularly distinct. However, what resonates is that humanity keeps going because of its drive to look after each other.
Ingrid Hu’s set design is simple, but soft and timeless. White and black cloth forms a textured back wall and a pillowy, cloud-like ceiling that gently holds the cast of four. The transitions between each scene are clearly signalled with lighting and sound motifs. Their predictability is somewhat comforting because we know that despite the horrible things the characters experience in any given moment, their lives will eventually improve.
Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters and see how their stories unfold, by the end the human race-wide perseverance serves as a reminder that we are more powerful as a collective rather than individuals during times of adversity. Though this is an intimate staging with a small cast, it is boundless in its esteem for humanity.
A Pessimist’s Reflection
An eternal truism of the human race is that we are and forever will be awful to each other. In Tan’s eon-spanning play, which is essentially a collage of short scenes both on our planet and beyond, his vast collection of characters inhabits times and places where war, dictatorship and violence shape their lives.
The cast of four play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by shared horrific circumstances. The overarching effect is one of the never-ending despair and suffering that shape the human condition. There are no meaningless platitudes about things eventually looking up or rose-tinted views of the real world; instead we are reassured that our individual pain is real, but shared. Everyone is going through it, and always will be.
Designer Ingrid Hu uses drapes of plain black and white cloth to lower the theatre’s ceiling and line its walls. The neutral colours and pillowy shapes dampen the sound and create a timeless claustrophobia from which the cast cannot escape. The stark palate evokes the good-evil binary that shapes each of these people’s existence. Militaristic sound effects underpin each transition and relentlessly propel time forward.
Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters to see how their stories unfold, by the end of the play the relentless conflict between groups of people (and other creatures) remind us that ultimately, most of us have little to no power within society’s hierarchies. However, we must keep going despite the injustice we endure because this is what really makes us human. Though this is an intimate production with many moments of care, Tan’s play is an epic reminder that people never change and we must simply do our best to carry on.
No Particular Order runs through 18 June.
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