Tag Archives: Zainab Hasan

“Outside” from the Orange Tree Theatre

Following the show titled Inside last month, this companion set of three short plays comes as the Richmond venue’s return to live theatre is announced. Starting with a couple of Bernard Shaw pieces, on the 22nd of May, an exciting year ahead is planned. It’s still a wait but at least this weekend you can show support for the venue online.

Two Billion Beats

First we go outside to a school playground. Sonali Bhattacharyya’s play has two young sisters, Asha and Bettina, discussing bullying and racism. Zainab Hasan and Ashna Rabheru are excellent in the roles. The quality of the writing is indicated by how vividly a teacher, Mrs L., who never appears, is depicted. With plenty of insight, this is a piece that leaves you wanting more. It’s a shame the production ran into technical difficulties towards the end.

Robinah Kironde and Fiston Barek
Robinah Kironde and Fiston Barek

Prodigal

An estranged son in Kalungi Ssebandeke’s play returns to encounter his sister, after his mother’s death, and the action takes place at the door of their family home. The drama arrives quickly and is effective. Expanding the action to a conflict over a life insurance policy has potential. A complex history of immigration is explored sensitively while issues of masculinity are also raised.

I wonder if Fiston Barek’s performance as the titular character might include more sinister touches? We’re told of anger and “a cartoon image of what a man is” but see mostly charm. Opposite him, Robinah Kironde does an excellent job: her character is hurt and frustrated in equal measure with touches of confusion.

Those technical hitches resulted in this piece, wisely, starting again at one point. And I should add that I’ve promptly been given the chance to see the shows again. But as if another reminder were needed, it does make you miss a real-life experience. Even looking at a safety curtain when there is a problem is better than a notice on a screen.

Temi Wilkey at the Orange Tree Theatre Richmond
Temi Wilkey

The Kiss

The evening concludes with a monologue from Zoe Cooper that looks at recent experiences. Getting to know the character of Lou, ably performed by Temi Wilkey, is a treat. Moving out of town, Lou and her partner end up struggling with life under lockdown. Getting to know the neighbours, taking up new hobbies and behaving…a little…strangely are all included. It is possible that The Kiss could be funnier. But Lou’s reassessment of her life and future goals will surely resonate with many. The show is full of detail and admirably low key, like all three pieces it illustrates fine work on the part of director Georgia Green.

Until 17 April 2021

www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Ali Wright

“[Blank]” at the Donmar Warehouse

This collection of 100 scenes, with the instruction that they can be selected at will and performed in any order, is “a challenge and an invitation” to theatre companies. It’s a startling idea that makes for a big book and shows playwright Alice Birch’s prodigious ability. It is also a suitable celebration of co-producer Clean Break Theatre’s 40 years of working alongside women involved with the criminal justice system. The treatment for the many situations they must have encountered is, by turns, heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. So what has this production, directed by Maria Aberg, created in response?

First, some brilliant performances. From names this theatregoer loves – such as Jackie Clune, Jemima Rooper, Zainab Hasan and Thusitha Jayasundera – to performers I’ve not had the privilege of seeing before, the acting is stunning. Tackling characters who all have a connection to crime, from the most serious to unnamed incidents, undoubtedly makes the show grim. But what’s important is how far-reaching and detailed repercussions are shown to be. Highlighting the children and relatives affected, as well as the women convicted, makes every character encountered a figure to be accounted for. As the 16-strong team moves from role to role, in scenes that are often very short, their achievements are breath-taking.

Much of [Blank]’s power come from its variety. Thirty scenes are delivered here, so we get to see many different women and hear multiple stories, from foster care, including one from the many scenes written for children (the young performers are fantastic), to an adult reunited with a mother freed from prison (providing stand-out moments for Kate O’Flynn and Lucy Edkins).

Shona Babayemi and Jemima Rooper in BLANK
Shona Babayemi and Jemima Rooper

Remember, teasing themes or coherence out of the texts is a choice Birch offers. Part of her point is to challenge conventional narratives about women ‘like this’. Aberg’s response is a light one; a couple of scenes share characters, but this feels like a coincidence. Rosie Elnile’s design and projections of the performers bind the play visually (although I am agnostic about the need for them). And there’s a nod to our specific location in the boldest scene that roots us in Covent Garden with the Donmar’s particular clientele: in a dinner party that turns into a disaster, Birch shows ruthless skills as a satirist and Shona Babayemi gives an unforgettable performance.

Aberg is wise to have faith in Birch’s short sketches – they are packed with emotion and drama. It can be frustrating to leave the action so quickly, and dizzying to think of how many scenes could be developed into full plays. That’s not the aim, and the writing is too precise for it to be the case – each scene stands fully formed. Rather, being overwhelmed by this breadth of – frankly awful – experience is a statement. This feels like a whole other kind of theatre. The play could be mounted anywhere, with any cast, making it a real treasure – full of possibilities and lives that we don’t normally see. While these women maybe invisible to some, [Blank] goes some way to filling that void.

Until 30 November 2019

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photos by Helen Maybanks