Chasing Rainbows

Oneness Sankara
Hoxton Hall
Hoxton Hall Theatre

Donna Berlin as Ama Credit: Sharron Wallace
Donna Berlin as Ama and Emmanuele Touret as Sola Credit: Sharron Wallace

Fifty years after the moon landing, Hoxton Hall commissioned this hour-long play, which was inspired by Trinidadian born aerospace engineer Dr Camille Alleyne and presents us with ambitious Amanda Baptiste, played by Donna Berlin, who is imagined as the first Caribbean woman in space.

As Ama (which is what her family call her) in her space uniform stands addressing the audience, apparently trying to tape a message to her daughter and her schoolfellows, she appears to be on terra firma but soon director Karena Johnson uses the rope that rises behind her to take her into the air simulating weightlessness, a reminder that this message for their graduation day comes from space.

Ama is no conformist; she is someone who had a dream, who has chased rainbows. She came to the UK to further her education, the first in her family to go to university, the first to get a master’s degree and now the first woman in space.

It has been at a cost. In Britain she found a husband, had a daughter, but both have had to be left behind. This is perhaps the most extreme example of separation, of conflict of the choice between family, motherhood and career.

She sets out to answer a set of questions that have been sent to her but uses them to explore things more widely. This isn’t so much about being Caribbean, more about being a woman. Would attitudes be different if she were a man (“If I had a cock” as she puts it more bluntly)? How many male astronauts have been accused of abandoning their children?

But being in space isn’t really what this is about, that aspect is not developed and the aerialist element of the production is hardly used for this is not about achievement and going into in space as about responsibility, the choices that have to be made and the feelings of guilt that haunt woman who try to combine career and family. And by implication makes the same points about men too.

Donna Berlin captures the awkwardness of Ama’s several false starts and her struggle to frame things correctly, which then leads her into wider speculations. She handles Oneness Sankara’s verse with its frequent rhymes without undue emphasis on its form but expresses its feeling.

Late in the play, daughter Sola (Emmanuella Toure) is introduced, presenting her frustration with a mother who won’t be there for her important occasion, a mother who has been missing from so much of her life. This comes too late to be a real confrontation but sets up awkward questions. This is a short play, only an hour long, but an hour that is unsettling for anyone who is a parent, or for that matter in any responsible relationship with another. Though in the past it is mothers wanting careers who were so often criticised, we all have to face up to how we fail others to whom we have responsibilities that conflict with other parts of our lives.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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