Friday, 11 September 2009

Katrina - Bargehouse: OXO Tower, London

Director: Jonathan Holmes
Reviewer: Becky Middleton

Four years ago last month, the state of Louisiana was ravaged by a powerful Category 5 hurricane that devastated its cities and other southern states of Texas and Florida. New Orleans was the worst affected; more than 80% of
the city was flooded and thousands of people lost their homes, many of whom are still living in temporary accommodation.

It is estimated that nearly 2,000 people died as a result of the hurricane, most because aid workers and the government took up to a week to reach them with food and clean water in the aftermath. Survivors of Katrina, America's largest natural disaster in history, paint a chilling picture of their experiences. And it is this rich tapestry of survivor testimony that the audience is catapulted into as soon as they step into the semi derelict warehouse on South Bank where Katrina is set. Staged over five floors at the Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf, one is totally immersed in the life and culture of New Orleans circa August 2005 when the storm hit. Writer, director and producer Jonathan Holmes superbly captures the essence of the city that has never been the same since. Its original jazz roots sing through the walls via the catchy soundtrack and vinyl records adorning the 'crumbling' structures that represent the interiors of homes.

Moving from room to room, the audience is first presented with a domestic scene complete with unmade bed and weather report on the TV warning residents to button down the hatches in preparation for the onset of wind and rain. Next is a lively bar scene set in the Funky Butt bar, where actors sit amongst the audience as they are entertained by a singer (Wunmi Mosaku) and encouraged that the gathering storm outside is nothing to worry about. Following this is the 'aftermath'; where the real voices of Katrina are told in verbatim accounts from journalists, residents and politicians in interviews that were gathered at the time.

Just six actors and an internationally acclaimed jazz musician bring the devastating and frightening action of the storm to life. There is the warm and caring Beatrice (played by a charismatic Andrea Harris), who has the near-impossible task of floating her partner Virgil's body through the drowned streets to City Hall. The independent and rightfully embittered Miranda (played by a strong Wunmi Mosaku) tells of heart-rending rescue attempts and repeated failings by the authorities to help people. Wrongly convicted murderer, Dan (played by a wonderful Joe Speare) self proclaimed low-life Cal (Andrew Dennis) and a trapped tourist couple (Orlando Wells and Stephanie Langton) all complete the small but captivating cast who fill the cavernous old warehouse with their fascinating, shocking and alarmingly true accounts.

The beauty of Katrina is the verisimilitude, the cleverly crafted script that enables real peoples' voices to shine through and the way that the inclusive staging completely immerses each individual in an emotive and powerful journey into a scene that we all witnessed, whether on TV or online, but probably never really understood. Definitely recommended.

Runs until 26th September
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