THE SWALLOWING DARK
by Lizzie Nunnery.
Theatre 503 above The Latchmere Pub 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 3BW To 26 November 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7978 7040.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 November.
A production that’s hard to swallow.
Though spending most of its life in Battersea, Lizzie Nunnery’s new play carries tonal inflections from its native Liverpool. Perhaps it should have played Cambridge too – the city whose population apparently equals the suspected number of illegal immigrants swanning around Britain these days.
Canaan isn’t actually illegal. It’s just he might be about to become so as his leave to remain’s up for renewal. Silly man, having been granted it once he thought that meant forever. Unlike passports or diving-licenses. He’s clearly not acquainted with the British way of life.
But he is with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, where he’s been both sides of the fence, as torturer and tortured. Now he fears being sent back.
In the dilapidated, polysterene-walled room that supposedly starts as his home, but is clearly intended by designer Alex Eales to scream run-down public-service holding-room at the audience Wil Johnson pours out Canaan’s anguish. He’s not a person to reason that a bit of restraint and politeness might be in order with Martha, the caseworker who’ll be making a recommendation about the future for him and his son.
She doesn’t have a son. But she has a 15-year old brother who’s in a spot of bother. It evens things up between them, or to put it another way, makes it all a little too neat in the mental agony stakes.
But it’s not that which makes this the most unconvincing success in theatre’s portrayal of occupational processes since Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange. It’s that Paul Robinson’s production (surprisingly for him) is played at a pitch of near-hysteria – ironic with a script which criticises a society where “Every story is, ‘My pain’. ‘Our pain’, ‘My horror’.”
Allyson Ava-Brown’s high-pitch emotional base hardly lets her distinguish between Martha and Rosa, Canaan’s wife back in Zimbabwe. Her fraught examination of Canaan’s speech patterns and body language on CCTV replay has the factitious tension of crime fiction.
Martha resigns her job, probably in disgust at the system. Seeing the way she behaves, she was lucky to have kept it so long. On the surface, politically probing, but at heart unconvincing.
Martha: Allyson Ava-Brown.
Canaan: Wil Johnson.
Director: Paul Robinson.
Designer: Alex Eales.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound/Video Programmer: Xenia Bayer.
Composer: Peter Coyte.
Projection/Video: Louise Rhoades-Brown for Knifedge.
Dialect coach: Claudette Williams.
Movement: Bernadette Iglich.
Dramaturg: Suzanne Bell.
Assistant dramaturg: Steve Harper.