Writers: Tanika Gupta, Simon Stephens and Roy Williams
Directors: Rachel O’Riordan and Diane Page
The resurgence of the monologue continues. The device proved especially suited to Zoom, and over the lockdowns digital monologues thrived. But as theatre reopens solo shows are useful to ensure Covid safety amongst those on stage. While many theatres (Soho, and the Turbine Theatre, for instance) are presenting single one-person shows, the Lyric Hammersmith has decided to show three in a single evening. With three playwrights and three actors at the top of their game, Out West is a roaring success.
The first play, The Overseas Student, is about a young Mohandas Gandhi travelling West to study law. On board the boat he’s nervous, worrying that England will corrupt him. As a Hindu (and a husband) he repeats the mantra ‘No meat. No alcohol. No women’.
When he reaches the capital, staying in lodgings in Hammersmith, it’s easy for him to resist alcohol, but his landlady doesn’t understand what vegetarianism is and he lusts after the English women who look so confident and walk so straight. It would seem that Tanika Gupta’s play, lasting just under an hour, will be a tale of sexual awakening, but as Gandhi meets various people in London, The Overseas Student, instead focuses on political awakening.
However, sometimes the politics lack dramatic heft, but Esh Alladi is very watchable as a wide-eyed and inexperienced Gandhi, and he brings some comedy to other characters in the story. In some neat bookending, Alladi gives us a glimpse of the man Gandhi will become.
After the break, Tom Mothersdale is Jack in Simon Stephens’ blistering Blue Water and Cold and Fresh. Set in June in 2020, Jack has walked to Hammersmith to visit all the houses that his father had ever lived in. His father was an alcoholic and some of the places Jack visits bring up bad memories. Jack’s journey isn’t an easy pilgrimage.
But in true Stephens’ style, his play is more than a study of a grieving man. It is an examination of where we are now; mid-pandemic, and how the year of lockdowns was shaped not just by the virus, but also by the Black Lives Matter protests. Stephens captures the pain, confusion and anger of the last year and the play carries the same weight as his other masterful monologue, 2008’s Sea Wall.
Mothersdale is excellent, and delivers most of the play right at the front of the stage, hardly using Soutra Gilmour’s large wooden frame that Alladi clambered over. There is also no sound design in this piece, but there doesn’t need to be when Stephens’ words and Mothersdale’s performance are so devastating.
The last and shortest piece, Go, Girl by Roy Williams. is also the funniest. Ayesha Antoine plays Donna, a young woman who is still seething about her school reunion party held on Zoom and the beef she has with her old friend Danni. All of them met Michelle Obama 12 years ago when she visited their school, but Danni has ruined this collective memory with a photograph.
While Antoine’s razor-sharp performance provides many laughs, Williams’ play has a deeper message about how black women are seen in society. They are too often pitied, which removes their agency. Donna and her daughter are strong women, and Williams’ play is about empowerment and its positive message is the perfect ending to a strong night.
The Lyric’s stage is wide and deep, but instead of swallowing these actors and their words, it illuminates these stories, and their voices echo all over the streets of West London
Runs until 24 July 2021