Nine Foot Nine  – The Bunker, London

Writer:  Alex Wood

Director:  Helena Jackson

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

Set in the not-so-distant future, this play, showing at The Bunker’s Breaking Out season, imagines a world where women have grown to over nine feet tall. These women overshadow the men and begin to rebuild the world in ways that better suit them. This inverted patriarchy works well as a metaphor, but as a 60-minute play it struggles.

Cara, played confidently by deaf actor Alexandra James, is pregnant when women are first affected by this sudden growing, or as the media calls it, sprouting. This unexpected metamorphosis is first experienced as a shocking trauma, but soon the growing pains and the growing scars are borne with pride. No woman wants to be left behind to be a ‘stunter’.

Nine Foot Nine is splintered and its three time periods are presented out of order and so we are initially confused to why Cara leaves her husband and baby daughter. Does she have more important duties elsewhere? And would we even question these duties if she were a man off fighting some higher cause? These domestic scenes with Paul O’Dea as the father and Natalie Kimmerling as the teenaged daughter are played with utter seriousness and they fit awkwardly with the voice-overs, which provide the play with its comedy. Are we meant to laugh at the preposterous sci-fi plot, reminiscent of Attack of the 50ft Woman? And are we meant to laugh at the silver paint that the actors daub on their bodies to indicate they have sprouted?  It’s an uneasy balance.

However, the play’s open-endedness is to be commended. Some may see O’Dea’s character as a good father and husband, while others may see him as a control freak. Some may see Cara a bad mother abandoning her family while other may view her as a modern day suffragette. It’s a shame that these ambiguities are not explored in greater detail, and in different registers.

Verity Johnson’s set of brightly lit boxes and rectangles ably suggests a cityscape, a city we, nonetheless, never visit, but often the surtitles are very difficult to see, especially from the seats which line the sides of the stage. Sleepless Theatre Company have come up with an ingenious idea, but like the women in the play, Nine Foot Nine needs time to grow if it really is to take over the world.

Runs in rep until 7 July 2018 | Image: Contributed


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