The Theatreguide.London Review
Finborough Theatre November 2011
The danger in writing a play about disorder and contradictions is that it may end up disordered and self-contradictory. (The danger in writing a play about boredom is that it may end up boring, etc. etc.)
The thesis of Sally Woodcock's first full-length play is (to
oversimplify it) that Africa is too complex and paradoxical for
European ideas of order to be imposed on it or used to try to
understand it, and that we must give up and embrace what seems to our
limited understanding to be chaos.
Unfortunately the vehicle she has written to carry that message is too complicated, disjointed and disorganised to be as successful as she would wish.
A young Englishwoman in Kenya impulsively beds and moves in with a white farmer, much to the dismay of his black housekeeper and mistress. Just as we settle in for a love triangle, compounded by the fact that both women are pregnant, we discover that the Englishwoman is rich and has utopian plans for improving the lot of the native poor, though that will almost in passing involve significantly damaging the lot of her lover.
But that's not what the play is about, either. In rapid succession but not necessarily this order we will discover that someone onstage (probably the one you'd guess) has AIDS, someone (probably not the one you'd guess) is mad as a hatter, someone (you've got a 50% chance here) will lose her baby, someone (you'll probably get this one) will die, someone (really out of the blue, this one) will be revealed to have incredibly clichéd Freudian issues, and I haven't exhausted all the meanderings and loose ends in the plot.
You can see that, to a certain extent, the playwright wants to overwhelm us with a story and world view that won't let itself be easily followed or categorised. But the result is a play that keeps going off in too many directions for us to keep up or, ultimately, care.
As directed by Gareth Machin, Jessica Ellerby, Jay Villiers and Kehinde Fadipe strive earnestly and do manage for a while to make individual scenes work and hold us. It's just that they seem to be in a new play, with new characters, every few minutes.
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