Hope Theatre, London – until 12 August 2017
A middle-aged, gay Welshman contemplates the English class he teaches in Hong Kong. Amongst the students is Windy, the Chinese woman with whom he shares his bed. Utterly smitten with her, he refers to her as his Pocahontas. He then kisses a barbie doll with long black hair and tanned skin.
Pocahontas was a Native American woman kidnapped by the colonising English in the 1600s, forced to marry, then taken to Britain. The same woman bore her husband a child then died, aged 21, after contracting a European illness.
Yet Lesley Ross’ monologue Diary of a Welshcake, presented as half of Odd Man Out with Dominic Grace’s Rabbitskin, romanticises the exoticness that was Pocahontas’ and is Windy’s downfall. Gregory Ashton as Ralph is no better than these European infiltrators from centuries past. He seeks salvation from the grief that he ran away to escape, but finds it in the most horrendous of white-people ways.
The lack of condemnation of this attitude in the script causes an indelible tarnish on the work. It’s unfortunate, because the rest of the monologue is generally strong. Ross tells an otherwise compelling story and Ashton is a charismatic, versatile performer. His journey of discovery and adventure overseas in funny and believable – and that’s part of the problem. White men fetishising East Asian women is all too common, and his blindness to the issue displays a disturbingly ingrained gender and racial dominance.
Fortunately, Rabbitskin doesn’t have these issues. An immigrant story from another angle, it tells of an Irish widower with five sons. They’re a working class family in Leeds, and he relishes telling Irish myths and history to his children whilst gutting rabbits for dinner. Luke Adamson is the youngest son Joe, the lens through which his father’s experience is viewed.
Coloured by childlike innocence and ignorance that couldn’t be more different from the Welshman, we see little of the man struggling to rear five children on his own whilst holding down a labouring job. There’s care and affection, but Joe doesn’t see his father’s pain until he’s older. Instead, we hear Joe’s story – the man loves storytelling, as his father does – from his childhood through his adolescence.
The shy, bookish child is the sort that endears himself to most adults, and Adamson’s portrayal is charming and sweet. He performs with immediacy and engagement, which makes the character’s reveal at the end all the more surprising.
In a world where immigration is a political sticking point, Odd Man Out, whether intentionally or not, looks at the pros and cons of Western immigration. The everyday working man who wants to do right by his family and the imperialist, middle class entitlement are laid bare, but the negative overwhelms the positive in this instance.