Lela & Co at the Royal CourtCultureTheatre
“In the beginning was the mattress. Gradually, other little changes – more bolts on the front door; the gun; the locked cupboard. And she knew in her heart that change was bad.” Reading this brief description of Lela & Co, a new performance written by Cordelia Lynn and directed by Jude Christian, one could be forgiven for not knowing what to expect from this production.
But as the lights dim and Lela, played by Katie West, introduces herself, it’s soon clear that this isn’t a tale for the faint-hearted. Based on true events, Lela recounts her childhood in an (almost) monologue, drawing viewers in through an infantile delivery of her story. Throughout, persistent interruptions from the male figures in her life (played by David Mumeni) overpower her, and things quickly turn sinister as Lela is whisked off across the border into an unspecified war zone and married to an acquaintance – a business-minded opportunist who quickly capitalises upon the sexual needs of men living in conflict.
As Lela is locked in a backroom, furnished with only a mattress, and her world descends into complete darkness, so does that of the audience, as viewers are taken away from the light and plunged deeper into the depths of her hell. The audience’s imagination, accompanied by the horrifyingly real sound effects of war, make for a claustrophobic and disturbing experience as, sitting in pitch black, the tension and unease grow palpably.
Despite these horrors, Lela is ready to be heard and, at a time when rape and sexual abuse are too often used as weapons of war, this tale rips the audience from its comfort zone, daring it to face injustices happening in the world head on. This is where Christian’s direction excels and Lynn’s script really shines: not only is it vivid in its content, but it is provocative and boldly relevant, refusing to shy away behind more pared-back alternatives.
Katie West is sensational in her portrayal of this tortured girl, giving her utmost and making the audience believe every second of this hour-and-a-half production. From young girl to grown woman, she masters the little details of adolescence and the maturity that comes with age, delivering a performance that will leave viewers utterly convinced. David Mumeni supports West exceptionally well with his versatile takes on the men dominating Lela’s life, seamlessly alternating between characters and leaving the audience feeling uneasy throughout.
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Lela & Co is on at the Royal Court Theatre from 3rd September to 3rd October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.