The Red Room
Protozoa, the second play of the Oikos project draws parallels between the Indian floods and what may happen should the Thames break its banks. With the wonderful junkitechture structure of the theatre itself looking as though it could have been washed ashore, the Jellyfish theatre immerses its audience literally and metaphorically in the world of Protozoa.
Luckily large scale natural disasters do not hit Britain that often, but Kay Adshead's play transports us to a London under water. Suddenly class barriers are broken and the living find friendships where perhaps they would have never looked before.
Snooty Cordelia takes in streetwise Sheann, whose baby went missing during the floods. The two characters are contrasting in every way: Cordelia is white, Sheann is black; Cordelia is old, Sheann is young; Cordelia is posh, Sheann is common; but aside from their many differences, one commonality binds them - the need for human companionship.
When supplies run out, money is no longer a useful currency in a place that once resembled London and this is where the play tackles its biggest theme: prostitution. Although the Oikos project is fundamentally an environmental one, the flood merely acts as catalyst for the other dramatic events to occur and here Adshead provides the audience with a harsh warning of what people turn to and into in times of crisis and adversity.
Dido Miles as Cordelia is a glorious iron lady who will resort to anything to rebuild her beloved home. As Sheann, Anne Akin seems distanced from her streetwise character and it is hard to believe that she craves her missing daughter, as her emotions lack depth. At times it is as if she is bemoaning the loss of a wallet or passport, but this could be linked to her character's own objectification; in order to survive she has become numb to feeling.
Unfortunately, even with a running time of an hour and a half, the play does drag and this is partly due to a lack of interaction between the characters. Monologues appear to constitute large parts of the text and, due to this, the sense of a relationship between the characters suffers as they are bereft of interaction with one another.
In Protozoa it is a case of actors acting alongside, not with one another and so the three different characters seem detached, even though they do have relationships. Miles and Akin would also do well to tone down their performances as at times they resort to over the top caricatures and any possible tenderness and tension between the two characters is deprived of an opportunity to surface. It also does not help that Neil d'Souza's slowly delivered speeches as Inspector Hall stall the production further and so the episodic structure of events happening over a period of years begins to feel rather clunky as the play never manages to gather pace.
Although the organisms of the play's title do appear in a couple of scenes, the word 'protozoa' is never uttered by any cast member. Protozoa are single celled animals and therefore the lowest forms of life. It is interesting then, that Adshead's characters share much in common with their single celled relatives, as they too become the lowest of the low in this moralistic tale of survival.
Playing until 9th October 2010
Reviewer: Simon Sladen