Double Bill: House + Amongst the Reeds at Yard Theatre
The theatre company Clean Break was set up in 1979 by two women wishing to relate their experiences of the criminal justice system. Since then, the group has produced various works focusing on women, crime and its inherent social complexities. Following a run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the company’s latest effort is a double bill by BAME playwrights Somalia Seaton and Chino Odimba.
Odimba’s Amongst the Reeds is the story of two teenage illegal immigrants hiding from the authorities in a disused building. The young girls, Oni and Gillian, must deal with problems that are much bigger than their simple desires: Oni wants to be a hairdresser while heavily pregnant Gillian only thinks about the happiness of her future baby. At its best, the play invites the audience to consider questions relating to poverty, homelessness, illegality, and to ponder whose responsibility it is to support youngsters who have been let down by their caretakers and the system.
Unfortunately, the execution does not live up to the ambitious goal of imparting these important messages. It certainly raises topics worth discussing but they are presented superficially and the staging fails to create an engaging atmosphere. The play experiments with repetition of dialogue snippets and uses other theatrical devices reminiscent of school productions. This makes the piece mechanical and inhibits any emotion from forming and coming to the surface. The two actresses cannot be faulted, however: they commit to the roles and do the best they can with the characters, which unfortunately remain two-dimensional.
The more traditional House by Seaton redeems the night with its high intensity. Patricia returns home for her mother’s birthday after a long absence, caused by their falling out. She is greeted by her younger sister, Jemima, whom she reconnects with after some initial awkwardness. When their mother arrives, a thick cloud of tension enters with her. The mother’s judgemental, tactless remarks provoke a considerable amount of amusement among the audience, but as details of their discord begin to emerge, the story takes a dark turn.
House is a well-acted piece, and it succeeds in gripping the audience with its build-up of emotion. The characters are well-defined and the dynamics between them easily recognisable. As with the first play, too many big topics are introduced in under an hour (including mental health, abuse, religious zeal, teenage pregnancy) and none of them get sufficient airtime.
Aside from a feeble link in the themes, the two plays do not fit together as well as one would hope. They both deal with weighty matters but fall short in terms of delivery. House is the stronger piece, but both plays have a work-in-progress feel about them and could have benefitted from a fleshing-out at every stage of their making.
House + Amongst the Reeds is at Yard Theatre from 1st until 17th September 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for House + Amongst the Reeds here: