Writer: Natasha Marshall
Director: Miranda Cromwell
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Part poem, part performance, Natasha Marshall’s one-woman show returns to the Soho Theatre, before it embarks on a national tour. Specifically written in response to the lack of roles for non-white female actors, Half Breed traces teenaged Jazmin’s struggle with the small town blues. While Marshall gives a determined performance, some of its power is lost in the theatre’s main stage.
With only a collection of lampshades hanging above her and with minimal movement, Marshall’s performance focuses on words as she tells the story of Jazmin, a mixed-race girl, living with her grandmother in the West Country. Jazmin thinks that one way she will be able to escape the town with its implicit and explicit racism is to go to theatre school in London, and she thinks she’s found the right audition monologue. But when she practices, her friend Brogan says she is too passive for the Shakespeare speech. She lacks anger and strength.
While the story of Jaz, Brogan and Brogan’s boyfriend Mitchell takes time to grow, much of the drama seems undercut by the writing as a good deal of it is in childish rhyme. Some lines are rhyming couplets and it’s distracting at times as you try to guess what the next rhyme will be. The rhymes are easy ones; some include ‘goes/knows’ ‘hair/there’ ‘joke/broke’ and ‘scurries/curries.’ Other rhymes might be more subtle with half-rhymes and internal rhymes, but the story gets lost as we anticipate the whereabouts of the next rhyme. Also, the simplicity of some of the rhymes gives the work an immaturity that it doesn’t really deserve.
The play only comes alive when Jazmin does find her anger and strength, and this move is reinforced with some much-needed theatricality from Ruby Spencer Pugh’s simple set and Xana’s sound design. With this climax, it’s understandable why the audience is so far removed from the stage, but this play demands an intimacy that the space can’t offer.
The last ten minutes of Half Breed are genuinely gripping, and the end is surprisingly complex with hollow victories gained by dubious means. It’s a shame that the rest of the 60-minute play is not as intricate, but Marshall is always watchable, especially when her character champions every outcast of society. Half Breed contains echoes of Tracey Emin’s short film Why I Never Became a Dancer, another text that charts a young woman’s escape to the city. And like Emin’s film, the result is, finally, triumphant.
Runs until 21 April 2018 | Image: The Other Richard