Shida – The Vaults, London

Writer: Jeannette Bayardelle

Director: Andy Sandberg

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon

Shida is a clever young girl with a bright future and a dream of being a writer. But her home life is less than conducive to a happy childhood. Whilst her mother and grandmother clearly love and care for her, she suffers sexual abuse from an ‘uncle’ in silence. Still she continues to meet new opportunities with enthusiasm and single-mindedness, somehow avoiding all the usual pitfalls. But just as she seems to have found a way of being happy, she stumbles in tragic circumstances that would be the end of most.

Playing the parts of every single character, Jeannette Bayardelle has, in effect, written for herself a 75-minute role of continuous singing which is in and of itself an impressive feat. With just a few props she easily transforms from little girl to wizened grandmother; sassy best friend to loser girlfriend. The trouble is, however, that Bayardelle is nearly always out of breath, so whilst it’s obvious she has a beautiful, soulful tone, very often she struggles to find the power and control she is so clearly capable of.

The story itself is predictable in its general arch- a girl with all the potential works herself raw to achieve her goals, only to stumble at a near-impossible hurdle and give in to temptations. The ‘bad influence’ comes at a surprising moment, or rather in a disguise less suspecting, but other than that the plot feels a little lacking in emotional struggle or conflict- this happens, and then another thing happens, and so on. Whilst there is plenty of distress and heartache, fraught emotions and sad circumstances are no replacement for suspense. Perhaps this lack of tension is owing to the one-performer format- how could we see any real conflict between characters when we only ever see one at a time.

The design (Charlie Corcoran, Clancy Flynn) is clever in its simplicity- dramatic light changes denote changes in character, and props are used almost exclusively as character tip-offs for the audience- the shawl is Shida’s mother, the glasses her grandmother; the hat her short-lived girlfriend. Other than that, our focus is entirely on Shida as she tells us her story.

As a showcase of Bayardelle’s abilities, Shida is a storming success. Under Andy Sandberg’s direction, her character work and musical abilities- along with writing the music and script herself- make her a threat yet unnumbered. The narrative is almost beside the point, with bold, catchy songs and plenty of comic relief, and it’s certainly a treat to see someone in such an intimate theatre who is clearly used to treading a much larger stage with a much larger audience.

Runs until: 13 October 2019 | Image: Helen Maybanks

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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