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[Review:] PROUD, The Pleasance Theatre, London.

This is a very rocky performance, failing to juggle astutely its various subplots and sociopolitical/cultural themes. From families ripped apart by war to homophobia to children navigating their parents’ separation, there is a LOT going on in this performance, which is most promising on paper but rather disappointing in execution.

I shall start with acting. These actors each perform with faultless energy throughout and are clearly recognisant of their character’s intentions and objectives. However, naturalism does not come easily at all to these characters who seem unable to emulate natural speech patterns and physical human behaviour. Andrei Maniata (playing Amir) is perhaps the most refined in terms of his acting style, yet perhaps this is because his character hardly says when the time finally comes for his lengthy monologue about his personal history during the ongoing war in Syria, any credibility is totally thwarted by an exaggerative and overdramatic outpour. I would recommend extensive work be done so that these actors’ performances might be remotely convincing.

Taofique Folarin (playing Roland) has obviously given extensive thought to the external appearance of his character, emoting well in terms of expression and physicality. However, his vocal expressivity is incredibly flawed, with almost every line being delivered with the same intonation and intensity. Overall, his performance is robotic in this way.

Though partly caused by a significant issue in writing, which I shall address below, Kaine Hatukai (playing Gary) fails to shift fluidly between emotional states, suddenly bursting into rage, for example, with no perceptible lead-up, corporeal tension or appropriate behavioural changes. He could also benefit notably from incorporating the behavioural and vocal 'essence of a 'teenager' into his portrayal, as the profile he offers us is slightly too collected, especially given how emotionally unstable his character is supposed to be at the thought of his parents' separation. However, I must note that he performs tenderness very well, indeed.

Maniata's portrayal, as I have already written, is rather credible until his lengthy monologue, but the extremely nervous individual that we see early on in this performance completely vanishes by his second appearance. In this respect, Maniata's profile is incredibly inconsistent. The more extreme moments must be reworked to avoid overdramatic flailing and unnatural wailing and to concentrate on portraying more realistic moments of breakdown, terror and collapse.

Folarin and Maniata each perform the stylised movements rather well, with Folarin, in particular, demonstrating a great fluidity in his physicality — and perhaps a background in dance? Given how well these are executed, my issue here lies, rather, with not just choreography but the significance and integration of these movements themselves. The decision to represent the 'couple''s sexual encounters through stylised movement sequences is a peculiar one, given the stark absence of stylised expression elsewhere in this performance, and one that could, at least, be more attractive if choreography was not so repetitive and…in places…just strange. There are countless lifts of the limbs that feel out of place and awkward, and the second sequence we see is practically identical to the second. A slow, semi-animalistic encircling prowl, then to the floor for the performers to arch their backs whilst sat on one another [a series for which the audience's view has clearly has not been considered, with almost every audience member beyond the first row visibly straining to see whatever is obscured by the members in front], then some 'leg play', and back up again for what I shall refer to as Folarin's standing worm dance. Again, odd and repetitive, and not 'odd' in a way that draws out the unique and special in their relationship; just 'odd' as in clunky, awkward, unappealing.

In fact, I find the very notion of their sexual encounters strange in itself, given how Roland pursues and perceives some kind of sexual chemistry with Amir, despite the circumstances they find themselves in: terrified by the sound of helicopters to the point where he has micturated uncontrollably, suffering from PTSD and implying a desire to be left alone does not make for the grounds of a particularly erotic and impassioned love story. Amir is also clearly uncomfortable, for various reasons that are later divulged, during sexual interactions with Roland, yet he is pursued, regardless. Somehow, we are meant to see this as a heart-warming tale of gay love? This is only worsened by the age gap, which is not posed as an issue until Gary implies that this is perhaps the very thing that has drawn them together, which would make quite a lot of sense in light of the lack of magnetism elsewhere between the two. Roland is not particularly loving but overly tactile and rather pushy, and I fail to see why the creatives would think this is a story with which one could profoundly connect. And this is without mentioning the dysfunctionality we experience through their physical altercations. These items simply are not congruous with Roland's character, a loving father who, really, rather has his life together at the age of forty.

I believe the characters of this play are also difficult to identify with due to the severe and extremely rudimentary manner in which they are presented. For example, trembling at the passing of every helicopter, frenzied by the loss of his watch, furtively disappearing after every scene, falling to the floor with fear at every possible moment — and somehow cured of all anxieties after merely recounting his story to Roland... It is simply too monotonous and monolithic, not to mention slightly overdramatic in its unnuanced presentation. We do not need so many expressions of fear; we need humanity.

This sense of rudimentariness and repetition is also palpable in Gary's character and in his relationship with Roland. Gary's constant...winging, for lack of a better word, that Roland left him and moved away, constantly asking him why he did it — which is all rather strange, considering that he already knew about his father's sexuality and reasoning behind his departure — and his begging him to come back becomes extremely monotonous and predictable. These supposedly 'deep' conversations, or rows, with his father seem to come out of nowhere and offer little to no variation each time.

Overall, very little happens in this text (written by Bren Gosling), and anything that does progress the plot or develop our characters is wrung dry through constant regurgitation of unchanging information and material. A weakly written text, bland and failing to consider neither momentum nor fluid progression and climax.

In terms of set (designed by Justin Nardella), the ‘deconstructed’ and minimalist design of the door frames, though attractively designed in itself, does not coincide with the busy and rather naturalistic set piece and prop arrangements we see in the bijoux room Downstage Right and around the main stage. Furthermore, actors seem to forget that their characters should not be able to see through the imagined walls around these, as when Roland, a regular perpetrator of this, watches Maniata changing or Hatukai playing the violin. Great attention has been given to areas the cast rarely enter or furniture that they rarely interact with, and then, there is the blunt and brutal folding bed chair and the overly eclectic, chaotic basketball court / lounge / bedroom. As I mentioned before, Roland seems, through various superficial implications, to be doing rather well for himself, all things considered, and if he has a spare bedroom for his son to stay in — which negates his claims that he does not have enough space for Gary to come and live with him... — I imagine his own bedroom would be equally adequate. It is not represented thusly.

Finally, I must also comment on the bulky lights that are attached to the phones Folarin and Hatukai hold whilst portraying their characters' FaceTime conversation. These are far too unrealistic. To simply have the phone display a bright white screen would have been far better than these unrealistic and bizarre-looking attachments, given that this is not how phones light the face during such video calls and that the screens of these mobiles are quite noticeably switched off. This is without mentioning the fact that Gary notes that his father is holding the camera too close to his face, providing him with a clear view up into his nostrils, yet Folarin holds the phone in no such fashion and, in fact, holds it exactly as Hatukai does. These little details are those that gradually amount to complete destruction of illusion and subtraction from credibility and realism.

“Chaotic, unstructured, ill-conceived, crude.”

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