Review - Black Lives Playlist: Track 2
Strikes Back Productions certainly does what it says on the tin, creating the second track of Black Lives Playlist and bringing this unique and nuanced monologue to life. It wove intricacies of love, religion, and family into one captivating hour with the speaker giving us this deep window into his life, one question ringing above the rest: 'What do you want?'
With three threads each slowly coming together, a character is formed in front of the audience. The first, chronologically, is the speaker's Grindr hook-ups and eventual closeted romance. This is followed by a visit to his sister's boyfriend's house which then ties directly into him ending up on the doorstep of his next hook-up, one that just seemed to ask the right questions. There is no way I could summarise the beautiful intricacies of Sam Spencer's script well enough to do it justice. As a performance, the deep connection and thought behind every sentence was clear which shows the strong collaboration between Sam as writer/actor and director James Newbery. Times of deeply personal reflection are soon brushed aside by the character's unwillingness to truly feel showing a flawed and real voice that I am sure resonated with many. The play treated family and religious shame with a nuance and understanding not often seen in student writing. The ideal of the model family and its façade of smiles were peeled back while also touching on more distant family relationships within the speakers own family. Religion's power to provide community is acknowledged but its imposition and shunning is always felt. Anger towards himself has the speaker welcoming the wrath of his actions as 'no one fucks harder than god'. Overall Sam Spencer has created a spellbinding and deeply emotional piece, interlaced with moments of humour, that elegantly tells one man's story of self-questioning.
Adem Berbic adapted well from their film lighting background, learning the Element desk in a handful of hours and creating a balance between theatrical and filmic styles. The mood of the monologue guided the lighting and separated reality, recollection, and emotion. The opening with a top down warm light to build the scene of the speaker waiting on the porch with the face light being introduced as the door is opened gave an immediate feel of naturalism to the moment and a shadowy introduction to our speaker, helping to raise that tension for the first word. For the main body of the monologue the character was sat in a chair, lit with a sharp drop off into darkness, isolating the speaker on their own which drew focus while helping to reinforce the idea of disconnection with everything else around him. Colour was then brought in in moments of connection, often subtly at first only to be quickly snatched away by a twist in the monologue. It supported even unspoken moments by helping the audience understand what the speaker was not telling even themselves. A great example of simple design that means so much more than it may first appear.
The monologues single voice was picked up on a lapel mic, the clarity of voice it gave throughout was crucial in the delivery of the script and its emotions, far outweighing the occasional rustle or visible addition to costume. The costume was simple and grounded: black trousers and a grey shirt mirroring the speakers internal conflict between two opposing forces, stuck in the grey between. The addition of a small golden cross pendant visually sets up their tricky relationship and ties with religion from the outset. Niky Pasolini's composition further accented moments within the show. From a more energised piece at the start which mirrored the speakers nerves, to a string piece making a moment in which the speaker gets the love he's been craving so much more powerful and then even more crushing as he pushes it away.
The static speaker was framed by slow pushes in as each element of the story finds its pacing and sharp cuts interrupted trains of thought. This editing style by Faith Wong along with the long takes constructed by Amber Haslam pair nicely to reflect the speaker's train of thought, at times delving deeper into personal implications, often getting swept up in a story, and at times cut off by another moment entering their train of thought. Some of these cuts felt heavy-handed and as though they were less for effect and more to stitch different takes together. However despite this, the visual style and construction of the piece was a triumph and allowed the words to shine.
The thought behind each choice made by each department is a testament to Charlotte Baxendale's producing and ability to unify a team under a single vision. Powerful and thought-provoking, this piece is a must-see and a brilliant addition to Oxford theatre's new writing. Addressing issues in a delicate and real manner, this play is sure to resonate with a hugely diverse set of people, each with their own insight to take. I look forward to seeing what this team creates next and if they can match the high bar they have set.
Written by - H. Dovell