Winsome Pinnock’s powerful play about drug trafficking (premiered at The Royal Court Upstairs in 1996) hasn’t dated at all. Its issues are still alarmingly pertinent and, of course, it’s good to see an all female play, featuring lots of actors of colour, with meaty parts for eight women, several of whom do some neat doubling.
Bridie (Trudi Dane) is running an international drug trafficking business. She’s glamorous, beautifully dressed and charismatically convincing so, of course, young women fall into her hands whether they’re fed up in Jamaica, lost in London or anywhere else. Dane brings an interesting combination of cheerful ruthlessness and, at base, vulnerability to the role. I had, however, difficulty hearing some of her lines at the beginning.
There is some intelligent acting in this production – skilfully exploited by director, Lande Belo. Tyan Jones stands out as the ebullient Lou, full of joie de vivre and carefully delivered Jamaican accent. But she wants more and a trip to London might just provide it although her sister Lyla (Oyinka Yusuff – good) takes a bit of persuading.
I also liked Vanessa Tedi Wilson’s Allie, the young shop assistant who has run away from her home in the West Midlands (judging by her accent) because, we eventually learn, she feels let down by her mother and the latter’s abusive boyfriend. She has a little money and no street wisdom. The rather predictable scene in which she is mugged/drugged and robbed in the park put me in mind of the cat and the fox in Pinocchio. Tedi Wilson seems wooden in her opening scenes (first night nerves?) but eventually brings real depth to the role as she begins to work for Bridie and then, when she has to, finds ways of working though the inevitable consequences.
This play made me think about a lot of things which are outside my everyday experience. There are some very smooth, predatory operators out there ready to take on the vulnerable and delude them into feeling secure and cared for – the Fagin type. And it’s even more chilling, somehow when it’s women exploiting women. Moreover, there are practical issues: I had never stopped to think how desperately uncomfortable it must be to carry a packet inside your body. “You just need more lubricant” purrs Trudi Gane’s character at one point. Ughh. Never let it me said that theatre doesn’t educate you.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/mules/