by James Sheldon

Theatre 502 above The Latchmere Pub 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 3BW To 26 May 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7978 7040.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 May.

A play with ideas, covering unfamiliar territory, in a riveting production.
When the earth moves, for the Pacific island Okoku Valley people of James Sheldon’s play it’s the Shiverman shifting below ground. Somebody, or something, has upset him. Pure myth, of course, but as someone says, the locals have survived on it for centuries. Now, though, there’s the new form of colonisation.

It’s represented by academic Roy, studying sympathetically the beliefs, and providing education for Tatalau’e, a vocal local whose brother Tembe stays silent, and observes. Observes enough to bring about catastrophe. Sheldon neatly summarises Tatalau’e’s new cultural divide in his earnest attempts to add English grammatical structure to its vocabulary.

Disaster arises also from the two young women who arrive to see Roy. Dominique, limbs kept covered, is severe, working as she does for a UNESCO-like cultural organisation. Coming deceptively along with her, another of Roy’s contacts Terri. Bearing bare arms, legs and a frequent wide smile, not to mention a lot of cash, her own private way of handling cultural assets brings about the final problem.

Plenty of room for worthiness in all this, yet this wearying quality is avoided because Sheldon makes his characters live as individuals, each a mix of confidence and limitation that’s never too neat; each is believably human. They have their passionate beliefs and their anxieties. Though one of his Okoku characters is silent, both are distinct and important to the plot and balance of ideas, with Benjamin Cawley’s Tatalau’e effectively the fulcrum. And Tom Littler’s well-cast production has the kind of performers the Fringe at its best provides; non-stellar in name yet first-rate and easy within their characters.

A good test of production quality lies in exits and entrances – do people seem to come and go naturally and have a life before or after; or does it appear they’re coming from and going to the wings? Despite 503’s limited openings, it’s never an issue. Each character lives part of a continuing life that stretches before appearance and after departure.

That’s praise for actors and director – and for Sheldon’s writing and structuring of the story, its themes and revelations. An informative joy to behold.

Tembe: Fisayo Akinade.
Tatalau’e: Benjamin Cawley.
Dominique: Lisa Kay.
Roy: Paul Mooney.
Terri: Eleanor Wyld.

Director: Tom Littler.
Designer: Nicky Bunch.
Lighting: Tim Mascall.
Sound: George Dennis.
Composer: David Allen.
Costume: Emily Stuart.
Fight director: Ed Young.
Assosiate director: Cecily Boys.
Associate lighting: Tom Wickens.

2012-05-11 09:05:55

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