Fabulation, or the Re-education of Undine

Lynn Nottage
Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
(2006)

Production photo

Lynn Nottage's Obie award-winning Fabulation comes to the Tricycle following success on both the stage and screen in New York. A narrative of epic proportions, it tells the story of the self-wrought reincarnation of Brooklyn girl Sharona Watkins as Undine, a Manhattan loft-living PR guru, and her subsequent fall from grace (via an unwanted pregnancy, her trial for drug possession and court-imposed rehab) after Hervé, her good-for-nothing Latino husband, does a bunk with the proceeds of her ascent up the slippery pole.

The play takes its title from the epic rap poem which is the lifework of Undine's brother, Flow. Taking Br'er Rabbit as his inspiration, he aims to write a history of the African American experience, but keeps getting stuck half-way through. This, on a smaller, more individual scale, is Nottage's own mission, to chart the life and times of black America's struggle to escape the ghetto and the challenges which lie beyond in corporate, class-ridden American society.

If the yardstick for a play's success were the scope of its ambition alone, Fabulation would be one of the best plays of the year. It is worth a watch for the originality of its theme and the method of its execution, but, a few well-worded quips aside, the semi-stylised, semi-naturalistic dialogue does not engage or convince.

Jenny Jules is a captivating Undine, but is surrounded for the most part by less talented actors (with the notable exception of Charlotte Lucas, who is a talent to watch) who seem understandably confused by the tensions between the play's naturalistic and styalised strands. In the end, what begins as a snappy, pacy comedy descends into an over-long epic which loses sight, to some extent, of what exactly it was it was trying to say. Fabulation and the Tricycle are both to be praised for presenting this story and all its complex themes; as pure theatre, it has its moments, but these are too far and few between to fill the two hours' stage time.

Until 21 October 2006

Philip Fisher reviewed this production in its first run in March

Reviewer: Louise Hill