Writer: Nick Ishmael-Perkins
Bringing the rhythms of the Caribbean to Streatham is Wretched Theatre’s A Dozen Things I’d Rather Be, a fusion of 13 poems about family, home and queer identity. Performed by Nick Ishmael-Perkins, this 60-minute show is lyrical and moving.
Ishmael-Perkin’s first piece is about his childhood in Barbados growing up in a cave farmhouse, perhaps not the idyllic scene we picture when the Caribbean is mentioned. In this first poem, least accessible of all the poems as it takes a few minutes to settle into the cadences of his stories, Ismael-Perkins discusses other houses by the beach that appear to be swanky second homes of the rich. But the young Nick doesn’t seem to understand the social divide; instead his happiness comes to an end when he is caught dancing by his father.
Over the next 12 poems, not always in chronological order, Ishmael- Perkins takes us all around the world. He loves cities as if they were men, but despite his travels he never really fits in. In Africa he’s treated like a white man and in other places he’s mistaken as Middle-Eastern or South Asian. It takes him years to find his identity, or as he calls it, his accent.
The best of the stories is the oleander story, a flower that he thought only grew on his island. Driving in a foreign country with a new lover he is surprised to see it growing on the roadsides. ‘What’s it doing here?’ he asks. The car journey is a long one, and the two lovers quarrel. The fight escalates and his lover reveals his true colours, his privilege clearly visible. Ishmael-Perkins looks at the oleander again but this time asks ‘What am I doing here?’ A crumpled flower falls from his hand.
Ishmael- Perkins’ words are elegant and easily evoke both Bajan sunsets and Bajan schoolyards where the young Nick absorbs insults as if he swallows knives for a living. However, Ishmael-Perkins also has to navigate a complicated set of pulleys and sand dunes designed by Noemi Daboczi. Some aspects of the set work, like the lightbulbs that switch on and off, and the stool that supports a pair of shoes. But occasionally these effects aren’t needed. A wind machine placed behind curtains distracts from the story about his brother and a few of the main lights are way too bright. It’s better when the lights are subtle like the time he walks into an underground room off Tottenham Court Road for the first time.
A turn of the wrist and a flick of the hip are all that is needed as Ishmael-Perkins concludes his odyssey of self-discovery. It’s a fantastic ending and yet, this isn’t where it ends. This journey of finding one’s way is also tinged with grief. But isn’t there an undercurrent of loss in every wave of happiness?
Runs until 1 April 2022