Friday, 9 November 2012

Theatre review: but i cd only whisper

There were cheers when it was announced there would be major improvement works done to the Arcola's unloved new building. Less so when it turned out the biggest changes would be to Studio 2, pretty much the only part of the theatre that was liked by audiences the way it was. The smaller studio has been relocated to the basement, directly below its previous home (which is now the bar.) The good news is that if the first show to be staged there, but i cd only whisper, is anything to go by, the transition has been fairly smooth. Kristiana Colón's play is set in an American city in 1970, and looks at the experience of black Vietnam veterans through a character study of a particularly damaged one: Following a dishonourable discharge from the army, Beau Willie Brown (Adetomiwa Edun) has committed an unnamed but seemingly appalling crime since his return home.

The story is built around a psychiatric evaluation by criminal psychologist Drummond (Cornell S John.) Over the 30 days he's been given, he has to determine whether Beau should be tried as if he was responsible for his actions - and if he is mentally unbalanced, was he always like that or is the war to blame? Beau seems to have already had a violent side before enlisting, as we find out in flashbacks that blur with the present day scenes, the storytelling style quite nebulous in the same way that the central character's grip on reality is. He's had violent moments with best friend Marvin (Tunji Kasim) and especially long-term girlfriend Crystal (Emmanuella Cole) even before Vietnam, and there's more than a suggestion that his version of events doesn't necessarily tally with other people's experience.

Nadia Latif's production keeps a tight rein on the ambiguous proceedings, and boasts some good performances including a powerful lead from Edun. Although Cole's no-holds-barred performance as the long-suffering Crystal is breathtaking in a quieter way, every muscle in her body expressing a woman who's been broken by what's happened. Meanwhile Sian Breckin as Beau's white mistress has an unhinged quality of her own, adding to the impression that if there's madness in the story it's not restricted to the man on trial. As far as the commentary on war is concerned, Sergeant Marshall's (Paul McEwan) matter-of-fact views on the difference between a good soldier and a good man provide some food for thought. Colón's bleak play perhaps holds on to its ambiguities a bit longer than necessary and can be frustrating, but makes for an intriguing evening.

but i cd only whisper by Kristiana Colón is booking until the 1st of December at the Arcola Theatre's Studio 2.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

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