Writer: Winsome Pinnock
Director: Amit Sharma
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Can we ever truly know what’s in someone else’s mind? Their drivers, priorities, needs?
It’s difficult to imagine how it must feel to drive a train and see someone step in front and be unable to do anything to avoid an impact with the inevitable outcome. How can you come to terms with such an experience? And each such tragedy has its own human cost, family and friends left grieving and uncomprehending. One Under from Graeae Theatre tries to dissect such an event as those affected struggle to come to terms with and whose lives become inevitably linked.
One morning Sonny (Reece Pantry) steps in front of Cyrus’ (Stanley J Browne) London Underground train. Through a sequence of episodic and at first disorienting scenes, we begin to learn how Cyrus becomes obsessed with Sonny’s death, in particular, why would Sonny choose his, Cyrus’, train? Then there’s Sonny’s mother, Nella, (Shenagh Govan) and sister Zoe (Evlyne Oyedokun), both trying to come to terms in their own ways but inevitably coming in to conflict as their priorities differ. We meet all these survivors some time after the incident when the rawness of new grief has begun to pass and is being replaced by puzzlement and a need to understand.
And what of Sonny? We see some of his last interactions with a relative stranger, Christine (Clare-Louise English), the manager of a dry-cleaning shop as well as with his mother.
Through the sequence of vignettes, spotlights are shone on aspects of these people’s lives, but the nature of a spotlight is that alongside the bright illumination, as in a tube tunnel, is dense impenetrable shadow. We begin to get hints of what might have triggered these events, but, as is so often the case, the full truth remains out of reach, unreachable, to be replaced by perceptions and interpretations of those affected and us, the audience.
Director Amit Sharma ensures that the flow is undisturbed, notwithstanding the disjointed nature of Winsome Pinnock’s intelligent narrative. This is assisted by designer Amelia Jane Hankin’s simple multi-purpose set, that is at once claustrophobic and open. Cast members not involved in a scene sit in the shadows, silently observing the action as it unfolds.
Browne brings us Cyrus’ confusion and need to know, his obsession clearly to the fore as his efforts to uncover the truth – any truth – become ever more desperate. Govan shows Nella as one needing support and a sympathetic ear, albeit with strength below the surface, while Oyedokun brings all of Zoe’s frustrations out in a display of grief tinged with bitterness because of her perceptions of Nella and Sonny’s relationship. Pantry shows us Sonny’s brittleness and fragility, even as he seeks to forge some sort of relationship with Christine whose bemused, go-with-the-flow attitude is well drawn.
One Under is not an easy watch as the layers are peeled back and what is revealed is not always pretty. It asks more questions than it can ever answer, leaving one thoughtful at the end.
Runs until 23 November and on tour | Image: Patrick Baldwin