Unbelonger at the Cockpit Theatre
Stage director Erika Kuittenen returns with Ekata Theatre’s Unbelonger as part of the multilingual interdisciplinary series of shows for Voila! Europe Festival, comprising 36 performances across four London venues.
Focusing on the relationship between the characters with contemporary dance and abstract movement, the show presents everyday circumstances in the workplace and classroom. Kuittenen takes these commonplace situations, implementing them around the subject of institutionalised prejudice and preconceived judgements. Having grown up and lived happily for several years in India, the Finnish director’s perspective is interesting, though marginally different to that of those who experience direct racism and victimisation.
The piece comprises individual parts where the lead (Janaki Gerard) is ostracised and ignored, contrasted by the inclusive behaviour of the other characters – portrayed by Durassie Kiangangu, Sylvia Manazzone and Tongchai Hansen respectively – who work and play together. Scenes in which Gerard is mocked on a date, not invited out to work drinks and ignored by colleagues manifest the subject matter. At times, it is unclear if the protagonist is imagining certain situations – with lights creating a brooding atmosphere, while sound designer Xavier Valentín’s music produces ambient pieces, equally jarring and contemplative – but the production remains open to interpretation.
Minimalist stage design also draws focus towards the actors’ movements, craftily making use of wooden crates – simultaneously working as briefcases, backpacks and dinner tables – while the lack of a script maintains consistency in the story’s direction and tone. The only dialogue that is spoken acts as a backdrop, with the cast speaking in their native languages of Swedish, Norwegian, Italian and English, but the point of the storytelling is not the speech, rather the physical interactions between the ensemble. Kuittinen’s use of a scarf – possibly representing the protagonist’s identity crisis and the stereotype imposed on her by society – works well as a benign artefact symbolising her difficulties.
In a time of man-made borders, mass migrations and displacements, the performance is a timely piece. For those of third-generation cultures, Unbelonger will surely resonate: where do you call home when neither your parents’ motherland nor your country of origin is truly accepting? As we see Gerard finally acquiesce to the existence of the scarf in her life and move fluidly with it, it is a nice reminder that sometimes the trait that separates us most is also that which makes us all unique.
Photo: Ekata Theatre
Unbelonger was at the Cockpit Theatre from 9th November until 12th November 2018 as part of Voila! Europe Festival. For further information or to book an event visit the festival’s website here.