Double Dutch Expresso: Jesus Christ & Chocolate Pudding / How The Rapist Was Born
Punam Ramchurn / Sabina England
Theatre WaaH in association with Kali Theatre
Tristan Bates Theatre
Presented by new company Theatre WaaH in association with Kali Theatre these two short plays both centre on schoolgirls but in very different situations. To open the show director Poonan Brah has a gaggle of girls rushing around the theatre offering sweets, applying decorative stickers to hand or clothing and making it feel like a schoolyard or a playroom. Mila Sanders' set covers the black walls and floor of the theatre with nursery drawings of houses, people, trees and butterflies in coloured chalks placing us effectively in a kid's world.
The setting fits the first play, Jesus Christ and Chocolate Pudding, perfectly. Chocolate Pudding is a nickname given to British Asian Rani (she likes the pudding so likes the name) who takes us back to being a 6-year-old when she wanted to marry classmate Peter Jones, the little boy who's kicking a football over there. It doesn't please her Hindu mum that she also wants to be an angel in the nativity play, and prays to Jesus to make it happen. But it doesn't and she finds herself with fellow Scouser Kerry dumped behind the altar for bad behaviour. The two girls bond and we now follow that friendship through their school years.
It is beautifully played by Dina Mousawi as Rani and Rachael Hilton as Kerry, who also take on every other role from little Peter and other kids and various teachers to the girls' parents, subtly modifying their playing to match older attitudes as they move to age 11 and on into their teens. At first oblivious to racial and cultural differences, their families' prejudice and contrary expectations drive them apart and in microcosm we see an all to familiar pattern of realignment and the pressures and guilts this brings.
The play's bubbling humour makes its sad coda more effective. Dramatist Ramchurn presents, she doesn't attempt explanations but that doesn't make this compact piece any less effective.
How the Rapist was Born is a very different piece. A uniformed nurse stands beside a female patient in a bed, a group of schoolgirls begin a song that matches the play's title. Where are we? What's going on in this hospital? Or is it a hospital? - at times the dialogue appears to suggest a domestic setting with a kitchen next door; the nurse goes home leaving the woman's daughter in charge. Are we perhaps just in the patient's mind as we watch a continually changing relationship between a Muslim mother and her daughter who we gather is the child born after a rape, a rape by a violent white man with whom the daughter Charley identifies - a white imperialist not a dark-skinned Muslim. Sabina England has ambitiously tried to interweave a whole lot of underlying themes and used boldly non-naturalist forms to do so. There is the love-hate relationship of host and incoming cultures, of child and parent, colonial exploitation, a suggestion of a sex-slave prisoner echoing the constraints of arranged marriage or perhaps any gendered pairing, inheritance of violent tendencies, failed aspirations.
Is the penis in a plastic jar real, severed when mother Rabuah killed the rapist, or is it a symbolic trophy? Is this a picture of a wife driven to murder and madness? It doesn't quite work because it leaves you trying to work out what the 'story'is rather than the ideas that are being it. It is too consciously trying to be in-yer-face and complicated lighting cues with flickering fluorescents add to the confusion, suggesting a change from one mental state to another but with no consistent matches to changes in Shelley King's performance as Rabuah, sometimes at full decibels, sometimes shrinking back into herself so that we are never quite sure what she is saying. Dina Mousawi gives a strong performance of Charley but much more one-dimensional than in the first play: the displays of affection pretence rather than the fluctuations of a relationship I don't know whether it is the author or the director who has come up with some physical staging that is effective theatrically in holding the attention and pumping up the emotion but rather than adding sense to the piece, it seems rather to be disguising its lack of clear construction. This feels like a work in progress rather than a fully finished piece of theatre.
Until 17th October
Reviewer: Howard Loxton