LELA & CO
by Cordelia Lynn.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 3 October 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm (Mons Day seats only; online from 9am; 17 Sep 7.45pm Sold Out).
Captioned 2 Oct.
Post-show Discussion 16 Sep.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 September.
Lela4-ever in a startling drama.
It can be difficult, seeing a show these days. Battersea Arts Centre pioneers productions performed in pitch-black, while autumn at the Theatre Upstairs opens with Cordelia Lynn’s play, a ‘monologue’ with six characters and two actors, a fair chunk taking place in the dark.
Best not to make light of it though, as Lynn has a very serious subject. Lela’s seated happily on a suspended chair at first; but as her story proceeds, she’s clearly no joyous creature on a perch, more a bird in a gilded cage. Without the gilding.
Katie West’s northern accent might relate Lela’s early talk of country and mountains to the North York Moors or Lake District. But this is evidently a Balkan war-zone, social disruption leading, as in the 2010 film The Whistleblower, to the sexual exploitation of young women, by people including their own family members.
Like Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Lela has been controlled from early life by men, first her father then her husband. They assert, as they treat her roughly, that she is only safe indoors with them. None has any consideration for her, and they are all merged into one actor, David Mumeni, who is variously convincing or awkward.
West is magnetic throughout, having an initial childlike joy, rushing to impart information. She’s sitting pretty in front of a red-plush curtain, name in lights behind her.
But as her show goes on, the clothing becomes plainer and the curtain’s sheen disappears as Oliver Fenwick’s lighting changes, then fades. And there’s an increasing strain underlying Lela’s apparent cheerfulness. In the darkest passage her world is agonisingly reduced to an existence just wide enough for herself and her baby.
There’s a tooth-rotting irony in the sweet things that feature in this soured life; a birthday cake for the day she becomes a teenager, signalling sexual availability, the candyfloss spun by her captor.
Occasionally, Lela’s speech can seem too sophisticated for the character. But Lynn’s structure, like Jude Christian’s remorseless production, has the shock of a new approach that consistently grips as it clearly exposes Lela’s complex, confusing and alarming experiences.
Lela: Katie West.
A Man/Father/Jay/Husband/Peacekeeper: David Mumeni.
Director: Jude Christian.
Designer: Ana Inés Jabares-Pita.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Davis McSeveney.
Dialect coach: Helen Ashton.
Fight director: Pamela Donald.
Assistant director: Rachel Nwokoro.
Conceived by and developed with Desara Boanja & 1989 Productions.