IMAGE OF AN UNKNOWN YOUNG WOMAN
by Elinor Cook
Gate Theatre above The Prince Albert Pub 11 Pembridge Road Notting Hill W11 3HQ To 27 June.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 3pm.
Captioned 25 Jun.
Runs: 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7229 0706.
Review: Carole Woddis 16 June.
Magnificent montage of image and realities.
Did Elinor Cook have in mind that iconic picture of the little Vietnamese girl screaming in the road when she titled her latest play Image of an Unknown Young Woman, kicking off Christopher Haydon’s intriguing new Gate ‘Icons and Idols’ season. Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut’s photo went round the world, coming to symbolise the horror of the Vietnam war.
Maybe, though, she had something more contemporary in mind – images that now shoot round the globe courtesy of social media, viral events that are turning our world upside down.
Image of an Unknown Young Woman however is not solely about how the digital age is shaping our lives, although image is surely at the heart of Cook’s dark and troubling piece. Like the best writers, she has a way of juxtaposing contrary atmospheres: tenderness with violence. It makes for a complex, satisfying mixture as indeed was the case in her 2014 HighTide offering, The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World.
Here, Cook covers an enormous amount of ground in 90 minutes. Revolution, torture, desperation as a driver of extreme acts, the changing role of women, western guilt and of course photography/video are all in there in this dramatic mosaic. It starts with the shooting of a young woman and is given an almost classical structure, with opening chorus and climaxing epilogue in which the nature of what we take, from images, to be truth and reality is seriously questioned.
Action swings from protestors exploiting the killing to the even more heartbreaking example of a daughter searching for a mother who went out shopping and simply disappeared (think South America, Burma, Arab Spring, Ukraine etc etc). `Freedom and democracy’ may score points for political self-righteousness but, Cook implies, they can bring with them terrible, `accidental’ collateral damage.
On the Gate’s tiny stage, Christopher Haydon’s traverse setting again works wonders, bringing a shuddering immediacy to Cook’s poignant re-examination via a cracking cast that includes the always intensely watchable Susan Brown as the middle-class, middle-aged westerner beside Eileen Walsh’s despairing daughter and a terrific multi-ethnic group of up-and-coming young talents.
Chorus: Oliver Birch, Emilie Patry, Isaac Ssebandeke.
Yasmin: Eileen Walsh.
Leyla: Anjana Vasan.
Ali: Ashley Zhanggazha.
Nia: Wendy Kweh.
Candace: Susan Brown.
Director: Christopher Haydon.
Designer: Fly Davis.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Sound: George Dennis.
Assistant director: Lynette Linton.
World premiere at the Gate Notting Hill London 4 June 2015.