One Under by Winsome Pinnock. The Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 to 21 December 2019. 4****. William Russell.

One Under
By Winsome Pinnock.
The Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL to 21 December 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.15pm. Mat Sat 2.30pm. Sat 21 Dec 7pm.
Runs 1hr 45 mins. No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: William Russell 11 December.

Cyrus is a tube rain driver, Sonny the young man who throws himself in front of the train. Cyrus becomes obsessed with why he did this, and seeks out the people who knew Sonny. There is no question that the cast, who have been on tour with this production, which started off at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in October, are fully in command of their roles and deliver fine performances. It has been fascinatingly staged. The departure boards at the station loom over the set and show the text as the actors speak the lines which, I assume, is part of the re-imagining that has taken place since it was originally staged in 2015 at the Hampstead theatre. This production is under the auspices of Graeae, which deals with the problems of the disabled and the deaf and the boards are used as surtitles on which the text is printed as happens with opera.
The piece has play has powerful moments, but the structure gets a deeply confusing as the plot flits between past and present so that Sonny is sometimes dead, sometimes alive and it is it never made clear just what drove him to suicide. He is charming, has money to burn, gives it away on a whim, and apparently has no cares in the world, happily setting about seducing the slightly too old for him Christine, manageress of a laundrette. Yet there is just the slightest undercurrent of violence that makes one suspicious about him and that money. He takes her to a hotel for a lunchtime assignation which she later says showed he really wasn’t interested in her at all and he could barely look at her.
Meanwhile Cyrus starts to pursue everyone he can find who knew Sonny, gets access to Sonny’s sister Zoe – they are both adopted children – and to his flat, where he persists in looking for clues as to why the young man killed himself. He has also wormed his way into the life of Nella, the woman who adopted Sonny and Zoe. The play proceeds by fits and starts, at times one’s attention is gripped as the emotional battles rage, at others one is left wondering what is actually going on, something not helped by the fact that the actress who plays Nella also plays Mags, the station woman who tells a terrified Cyrus after the incident just what to expect. It takes time to realise they are not one and the same person.
As for Cyrus’s behaviour, horrible as it must be to kill someone for a train driver part of their training must include warnings about what to expect if such a thing happens. That said the individual scenes are beautifully written, the material about human relationships, those tiny links we have with strangers on a train or passed in the street when lives cross for a little while and then move on elsewhere, is all there. There is, because in a way this is a thriller, a revelation in the last scene which helps explain the events but the play remains, while worth its revival, a less than satisfactory piece with a plot which moves in fits and starts, seizing and then losing the attention. However Stanley J Browne makes Cyrus’s obsession something we can all understand with a deeply felt performance, Reece Pantry catches the ambiguity of Sonny perfectly – if he really is down and out begging for money where did the cash and the clothes come from for a start – and Claire-Louise English is touching as the flattered and seduced just a shade too old for him owner of the laundrette. But naming names can be invidious and Evlyne Oyedokun and Shenogh Govan are every bit as good.

Cyrus: Stanley J. Browne.
Sonny: Reece Pantry.
Christine: Clare-Louise English.
Nella: Shenogh Govan.
Zoe: Evlyne Oyedokun.

Director: Amit Sharma.
Designer: Amelia Jane Hankin.
Lighting Designer: Tanya Joelle Stephenson.
Sound Designer: Beth Duke.
Movement Director: Angela Gasparetto.
Production Photographs: Patrick Baldwin.

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