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Crowded (Susan Elkin reviews)

Crowded
By Desiree, Laura Rae and Slam the Poet. A Half Moon and Apples and Snakes co-production
performance date: 08 Nov 2019
venue: Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, 43 White Horse Road, London E1 0ND

Photos: Stephen Beeny

⭐⭐⭐

This thoughtful, sparky immersive three-hander invites a teenage audience to reflect on mental health problems. Written by three performance poets (Desiree, Laura Rae and Slam the Poet), who also perform it, the narrative presents three school leavers at a music festival. Although each of them has contributed around 15 minutes of material, dramaturge, Rosemary Harris, has woven it into a coherent piece of theatre.

They’ve just finished their exams. One of the relentless rap/mantras which sometimes overpowers the music they’ve come to dance to is ‘no more tests’. Another is ‘everything depends on this’. Another voice obtrusively chants ‘not normal’ over and over again. At another point one character complains of being ‘a stranger in your own body’ and I love the image of ‘I found her self esteem where she left it on the floor in Primark’.

Each of them becomes concerned, or involved with another unseen person. Slam, for example, meets a friend and feels attracted in a new way. The sex of the other person is deliberately left open so that we, the audience, can freely interpret it as we wish.

There are voices and echoes in the sound track too as well as dance music and songs. Other issues the piece brushes against include bulimia, depression and isolation even in a very crowded place. There’s certainly plenty to discuss once we get to the fifteen minute post-show Q&A.

Slam has extraordinarily expressive rhythmic feet along with a rhythmic body and a rhythmic voice. Rae is tall with striking stage presence and a strong voice. Desree acts as a foil to both of them – just as talented but with a slightly more homely style.

They work very effectively together in a playing space configured as a ring with benches on the perimeter and a few seats in the middle. The three performers move round the space occasionally moving an audience member without a fuss if they need to stand on a bench. I saw it with two school parties who cooperated with commendably little fuss.

The festival atmosphere is effectively enhanced by Faith Austin’s set which included an appropriate hessian floor, a colourful tent-like roof and lots of lights which sometimes flash.

This is an important piece of work and I’m glad that it has a ten venue tour following the run at Half Moon because it means that lots more young people will see it.

First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-West%20End%20&%20Fringe-Crowded&reviewsID=3768
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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