|How cute is this theatre though?|
So it was pretty ace to be able to start my theatrical year off at The Gate, checking out the first play of McDougall's season, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. The premise of Twilight: LA is one which, when I told people about it, made them make The Confused Face. And on paper/screen it is a bit of a tough sell: a one woman verbatim play about the LA race riots in the early nineties. But if the concept, by Anna Deavere Smith, sounds a bit odd then in execution it's really not. It's fantastic. Urgent, compelling and oh so depressingly relevant in its stories of prejudices, injustices and complex identities (all plural used intentionally there).
I've never seen a more effective use of verbatim speech in theatre, ever. The selection of excerpts chosen and the voices they represent are vibrant and diverse and tell their story so effectively without ever being a straightforward narrative. It almost goes without saying, too, that they don't just tell the specific story of LA in 1992. There were several places where, without context, the words spoken could just have easily have been spoken today. They also shy away from ever presenting this story as some kind of simplistic one race versus another story. This is a complex piece, that raises complex issues and it's refreshing to see that no easy answers are offered save a powerful expression of hope that things will be different. It's nice to see too that, in this tiny enclave of Notting Hill at least, 2017's trend for political theatre with a capital everything is not going away.
The Gate is not a theatre I'd been to before, more fool me, and it's a brilliant little space that this production makes super use of. With much of the room sprayed Barbie pink and lit by multicoloured neon tubes it's instantly clear that this is going to be an inventive affair and it absolutely delivers on that early promise. Jacob Hughes' design is clever without being distractingly flashy and the way the performance space is laid out - the audience more or less in the round with 'stages' in the middle and, elevated, at either end - is really well thought through. Anna Watson's lighting is a joy throughout, including an incredibly effective pitch black segment. Ola Ince's direction is spot on. And whoever decided that the sort-of-interval should come with free tea/coffee and biscuits (Party Rings no less!) deserves a special award at the Oliviers this year.
This piece would be nothing - literally and rhetorically - without the sublime Nina Bowers though; the firecracker performer taking on the unenviable task of playing all 19 (!) characters. It's a feat of performance that it's just thrilling to watch up close. Each character has a distinct personality which never, ever relaxes into stereotype and it's incredible that Bowers is as effective as both male and female characters of all races and none. She is supremely charismatic, charming and chameleon-y and I will be supremely aggrieved if this is the last I hear of her. She deserves to be a superstar.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a little gem of a production and an incredibly deft piece of theatre. If you're in any way interested in social justice, verbatim theatre or, like, being a human person then you should see it. Go for the Party Rings, stay for the drama.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is at the Gate Theatre until February 3rd.