Never Have I Ever
This tight, visceral four hander is a debut play and a remarkable achievement for Deborah Frances-White. It is also a relatively unusual theatrical treat to see four highly accomplished actors playing off, and listening to, each other with this level of focused intelligence.
We’re in the Masada Restaurant in East London run by Jacq (Alex Roach) and her partner Kas (Amit Shah). The pandemic has left them facing bankruptcy, news which they now have to break to their wealthy friends, married couple Tobin (Greg Wise) and Adaego (Susan Wokoma) who financed the enterprise. All four were at university together.
That’s the exposition. What happens after that is a sharp, shocking and sometimes funny exploration of sexual, racial and gender politics. I was totally convinced by it all until a few minutes before the end when suddenly we’re in a Mozart Opera or a Shakespeare comedy with unlikely deals being made by two women out to fool the men.
Greg Wise is terrific as the only white male and a successful/wealthy one so he has a lot of power or thinks he has. It’s the drunken game of Never Have I Ever in which players force unexpected truths out of each other which throws up something he can’t deal with. Then we see hurt, anger, cool logic and incisiveness all done with the sort of timing you only get from a highly experienced actor.
Wokoma’s character is meant to be impressive and magnificent and she rises splendidly to the challenge. This is a woman you’d want on your side rather than anyone else’s and of course the script gives her plenty to say about the experience of being a black woman.
Roach presents a thoughtful, feisty, bi-sexual woman in Jacq with a huge talent as a chef but she’s troubled too and we see her three dimensionally especially in her scenes with Wokoma. Frankie Bradshaw’s set configures the whole playing area as a restaurant but the space in front, very close to the audience, represents the wine cellar and imaginative use is made of that for some two-person scenes.
Shah, of course, plays a brown man so he too has “otherness” issues but wears them lightly – often seeming the simplest and most straightforward of the four until he finally loses his cool in the second act and launches into and impassioned account of his true feelings. It’s an arresting few minutes.
This production makes interesting use of stillness. All four actors are on stage, almost continuously. If two have a scene together then the others are usually silent, shadowy, stationary figures elsewhere on the set. Also fun is the use of loud music, strobe lighting and some neat choreography (movement director, Chi-San Howard) as the four of them get drunk in act one although it felt as if it belonged in a different play.
I am still pondering on the observation that you have to keep your head down to keep it above water.