By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Friday, November 16, 2012.
David Watson’s excellent answer riddim to the Almeida’s King Lear
continues at Shoreditch Town Hall until 17 November, so try your best
to catch it. If not, you’ll be missing out on a quite superb, albeit
harrowing and disturbing, piece of theatre.
from the foyer of Shoreditch Town Hall by several intimidating,
uniformed Guards to the sepulchral and tomb like basement, Tim Mascall’s
atmospheric lighting, and Steven Brown’s eerie soundscape increases the
disorientation. Along the route - navigating shadowy tunnels, walls
lined with military apparel - frightening sounds assault the senses.
The 50 plus audience - on its feet for most of the time - experience
sensory deprivation and overload.
Beckmann’s transformation of this underground warren is meticulously
detailed - bare walls, exposed brickwork and pipework, overturned
chairs, crates, cobwebs on light shades, a floor layered with unknown
objects – perhaps dead mice, maybe rodent droppings. It’s a scene of
mayhem and chaos matched by the anarchic events to come.
starting point is the mayhem following the death of King Lear. Some
knowledge of Shakespeare is useful but not compulsory because the
strength of Watson’s concise and credible writing ensures that this
drama stands on its own feet, in its own right. Into this volatile
episode of internecine political intrigue and assassination Abina - a
loyal supporter of a government tenaciously but falteringly holding on
to a fragile power - is sent to oversee the political trial of a
Ceesay’s Abina gives a standout performance – distinguished,
authoritative and imposing. His voice resonant, his demeanour
persuasive, but frighteningly corrupted by the nightmarish scenario,
unwittingly trapped and incommunicado.
Campbell’s deranged wild-eyed, twitchy and manic Warden appears to be
in control here. His performance is a good one but maybe the only
jarring note and perhaps exaggerated - manic lunacy and hysteria rather
than calculated psychosis. The four Guards [all female - a comment on
something perhaps] display vulnerability as well as culpability, each
aiding and abetting the brutal environment with wilful, malicious
relish. Imogen Doel’s Guard B appears naïve; Charlie Covell solid and
commanding as Guard A; Olivia Morgan’s Guard C is persuasive and Guard D
traumatised, weak and susceptible in Alisha Bailey’s depiction.
wasn’t explicit but perhaps the dialogue given to these women –
sometimes banal, some humour seeing to fall flat – was a comment on
abusive power and oppression made trivial.
The dystopian vision presented in David Watson’s The Serpent’s Tooth
is perhaps not as outlandish as this production suggests. Recently
revealed evidence of British torture camps in Malaya and Kenya; the
northern Irish H-Blocks of the 1970s and 1980s; Guantanamo Bay in Cuba,
Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Bagrham Air Base in Afghanistan, and so-called Black
sites dotted around the world as part of the US empire’s network of
torture centres where people hunted down by the revenge seeking US
military are extraordinarily rendered and disappeared into a Kafkaesque nightmare of anonymity and endless brutal, incarceration – all are recent and very real.
expect a warm night in a comfortable environment though. That’s not a
criticism as such – just an observation of Talawa Artistic Director
Michael Buffong’s skilful and cleverly directed 60 minute promenade
production. You’ll be an observer to an unfolding crime, feel the
distress and anguish of the six characters and get a full-on experience.
Even as the play is enthralling but disturbing, the surroundings and
environment won’t soothe any discomfort – nor are they expected to. And
surely, this work can be reprised as an accompaniment to Shakespeare’s
regularly produced tragedy.
Main picture by Sheila Burnett
The Serpent’s Tooth
By David Watson
Directed by Michael Buffong
Until 17 November 2012
Shoreditch Town Hall 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT
Box Office 020 7359 4404
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.