Thursday, 20 November 2008

Security - Battersea Arts Centre

Security by Zena Edwards
Director: Anthony Shrubsall
Movement: Katie Pearson

Reviewer: Honor Bayes

Security is the moving and powerfully story of five disparate people who are drawn together through circumstance and find they have more in common than they may think. Although never fully going into the ideas thrown up by its strong title, it is a piece which explores what it is to live in a world where ‘security’ is such a watch word but where so little of it seems to exist. Zena Edwards tells us this story through a beautiful mix of song, movement and rhythmical language in a performance which, at times, is truly hypnotic.
The backbone of the story is the delicate relationship of Mahmoud, a 50 year old Palestinian man and Ayleen a young black girl, bustling with attitude but desperately trying to cope with her self obsessed mother and the loss of her brother. Surrounding them is the vast and colourful London world of Peckham, populated noisily by youths and techno pumping neighbours; and by Algernon, an 80 year old Caribbean man, who meets Elijah, Ayleen’s twin brother, at a bus stop, and unexpectedly changes his life.
With the flick of a hand, turn of the head or squint of an eye, Zena Edwards succeeds in bringing each individual inextricably to life in a performance which leaves you feeling both drained and elated through the sheer force of it. Whether she is the strong female narrator who sings or speaks with the voice of a titan, or Ayleen who ‘snaps crackles and pops’ her way through her own vulnerability, Edwards shows an incredible talent at flicking the switch and losing herself in these people she so proudly represents. She is a performer who tests the limits of her own ability and shines most in the hardest parts – the sadness in Mahmoud’s eyes which have seen the tragedy of war, or Elijah’s cocky hope which only comes with the promise of youth, are so perceptively performed that at points one imagines you are watching a piece with five actors not one.

And yet it is in this basic art of storytelling – of one person imparting a tale to another - that Edwards succeeds most. This is not a piece which could have been presented shabbily and nothing in this production is so. The attention to every physical detail, which bears the unmistakable mark of a dancer, is prevalent here and Katie Pearson’s work on movement is as obvious for it’s simplicity as it is for its impressiveness. Never losing itself in introspection, the eye of a director is likewise important within this piece and Anthony Shrubsall’s presence is a canny move on Edwards’ part. Neither Pearson nor Shrubsall allow her to fall into the often self indulgent autonomy which can plague a lot of one man shows. A truly collaborative effort that rests firmly on the shoulders of one, this is what one imagines the perfect ‘solo’ piece should be.

Theatre is often called a vagabond art form, taking as it does from so many others. Indeed it could be said that when each form is as perfectly mixed together as in this show, then it seems to be truly the best of them. Edwards, using only a table and chair and dressed all in black, succeeds without artifice in throwing open the world of inner London through a vivid combination of rap, song, elegantly constructed language and painstakingly fluid movement which pulls you into the veins of this vibrant city’s heart. Without fear of hyperbole it is fair to say that her performance and writing skill is truly awe-inspiring at times, focusing the audience on the wonder of life’s little details, whilst allowing space to imagine the vast world we exist in and have to live in. She is a performer who expects as much involvement from her audience as she has given to this work herself and although Security will leave you feeling exhausted, you will feel exhilarated too; a rare experience and one which only arises when one sees something truly wonderful and one has invested fully in it.

Photos: Irwen Lewis
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