[Review:] A PLACE FOR WE, Park Theatre, London.
This review will consider A Place for We, written by Archie Maddocks, directed by Michael Buffong and currently being staged at the Park Theatre.
Starting with the content of the dramatic text itself. The content offered here is very resonant and topical, communicating the difficulties experienced by biracial individuals, or those with parents from different cultures/ethnicities that may both differ from their own altogether, in feeling disconnected from both of their heritages, cultures and/or races and in recognising and managing the conflicting ideologies, patriotisms, values and traditions of each. The dramatic text offers a heartfelt overview of the symbolic relationships people develop with what they come to consider their territory, in connection with their heritage, ancestry and culture. Not only are these themes very relevant but they are expressed in a feeling, unbiased and, above all, human manner, considering the profound and subjective psychological ties with a singular location of all of its various characters. The characters themselves are well defined, and narrative is well-structured, clear and coherent.
I emphasise that symbolism is certainly managed very well in this text, with articulate and developed motifs like the ever-lit candle and the traditional funeral service communicating well both personal and shared emotional and psychological attachments that we have as human beings develop in this way, despite the differences in our personal histories and backgrounds. This attachment type is instrumentalised very well in this text. I think it was also very effective with this text to utilise a nonlinear narrative, for the disordering of time periods further communicates how this attachment type persists as seemingly transhistorical.
However, still on this topic of symbolism, George’s (Blake Harrison) half-drunken beer rant in the second act was far too understated and took away from valuable stage time. I think the second act is rather weak, in fact, for its lack of poignant and relevant material. It is repetitive and slow, and speech becomes incredibly unnaturalistic, too. Most unnaturalistic is the manner in which the two characters, Anna (Joanna Horton) and George refer to their late son and the memories they have of him. This section, when Anna especially relives the memories she has of her son’s accidents in the pub, is far too direct, blatant and unrefined. There is little lead-up, and natural patterns of speech are, as I mentioned above, neglected here. Beyond this, however, plot and narrative are used solely to facilitate communicate the symbolic themes, and this is organised most effectively. The information we receive is always relevant, unless it is desirable and efficacious humour, comedy being, too, artfully handled in this text. I would just note that perhaps characters are slightly too infatuated with their national and cultural identities, more so than a person in real life would generally be, regardless of their heritage and culture. This is perhaps slightly too simplistic and, to some degree, unrelatable.
When I consider the capabilities of the performers, I notice a huge range. Kirsty Oswald is by far the most transformative and convincing, and any lack of naturalism from her part is down to the unnatural speech or exaggerative content offered by the text, which she certainly delivers well, regardless. She is very credible and wonderfully energised. Horton’s acting style, however, is slightly too caricatural for her first character, and she notably struggles in portraying grand shifts in emotional states as Anna. Laurence Ubong Williams is adequate, but his performance also lacks a great degree of naturalism, and he equally struggles a great deal in the leadup to emotional outbursts. The emotional outbursts themselves, however, are adequate; it is merely the progressions into them that require work. David Webber (playing Clarence) seems to struggle entirely to portray his character with credibility, any true vigour only making its way into his performance when he portrays his character as drunk. Transformativity is completely lacking across his portrayals of Clarence and Clarence’s Father, and his performance relies solely on the efficacy [and humour] of the text and its own conveyances of his characters, especially with Clarence. Harrison is slightly more transformative but his naturalism is fleeting. He underplays his characters, especially his first, the more caricatural of the two, which makes for an even stranger dynamic between the caricatural vs naturalistic portrayals during the scene all performers [barring Harold Addo, who plays Young Clarence] share together. Addo is incredibly expressive and performs with great energy and conviction, but his acting style is far too exaggerative and melodramatic. This over-expressivity denaturalises the performance, as do all of these caricaturisations, and this resulting overall performance style, compromised and inconsistent, rather promoted by the unnaturalism present in the dramatic text itself, should be addressed by Buffong.
In terms of set design (by Louie Whatmore), the overall aesthetics for this performance are very articulate and cohesive, and great efforts are made to achieve a complex and appealing realistic look. Set designs are certainly very commendable in this way. However, I would urge that stagehands resist against the rhythmic music when working on set changes, namely the transition into what I shall call the wine scene [between Harrison, Oswald and Webber]; the current strut-like strides in combination with this rather incongruous music choice is distracting and confuses the play’s communications. Costume (also by Whatmore) facilitates the performance well and communicates the various time periods effectively, if a little pain in areas, and props are extremely well organised and appropriately used. Lughting design (by Sherry Coenen) was simple, and this certainly benefitted the performance, and sound was well designed by Tony Gayle and operated adequately.
I should also note, before I summarise, the practical effect of Harrison breaking the glass in his hand and causing it to ‘bleed’. This is managed extremely well. The artificial blood itself, however, is slightly too unrealistic both in colour and consistency, and this rather compromises these more intense moments. A similar thing can be said of the empty coffin that demands far too much imagination from audience members in picturing that a woman’s corpse lies inside it, particularly from those looking down at the stage and directly into the coffin from the circle above. This must be addressed. Either the written text or the physical interaction with the ‘corpse’ should be altered. The ever-lit candle, however, was nicely handled throughout. A very successful element, indeed, both in practicality and significance.
Overall, this performance has great personality, resonance and structure, with a great stage design and, overall, an endearing cast, but a striking drop in the integrity and momentum of the dramatic text, inconsistencies in performance style and faltering naturalism lead me to the rating I give below.