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One Under (Susan Elkin reviews)

One Under
By Winsome Pinnock. A Graeae and Theatre Royal Plymouth production. Commissioned by Ramps on the Moon. Presented in association with Curve.
society/company: Arcola Theatre
performance date: 17 Dec 2019
venue: Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL

Photos: Patrick Baldwin


This 100-minute five-hander, set in the round, is about love, forgiveness, despair and making the best of where you are.

Sonny (Reece Pantry) has thrown himself under a train having had a rather strange relationship with a brittle, troubled woman who works in a launderette (Clare-Louise English). His mother (Shenagh Govan) and sister (Evlyne Oyedukun) are struggling to come to terms with his death as is the devastated train driver (Stanley J Browne) who has arrived in their lives. The structure is complicated by many (arguably too many) time slips and flashbacks which make the storytelling a bit opaque at times. The play ends, for example, at a point which precedes the beginning so you really have to concentrate.

The quality of acting and direction (Amit Sharma) is this play’s strongest attribute. Five fine actors work together beautifully here with as much articulate listening as speaking. Govan, for example, as Nella conveys a real sense of far-sightedness and wisdom which her daughter mistakes for something else. Oyedokun is totally convincing as the worried, sensible but somehow insensitive daughter. There’s lovely work from Browne as Cyrus whether he’s arriving at work and chatting someone he meets on the street, hollow-eyed as he sorts Nella’s garden or totally traumatised in the aftermath of the death he feels responsible for. On the other hand, competent as Pantry and English are it is a very long time before what seems to be a separate story slots into the rest of the piece and even then it doesn’t feel plausible.

I liked the neat way Amelia Jane Hankin’s set includes railway-style illuminated boards over the playing area to connote the station and were then used to display subtitles. Also interesting is the way the cast are almost never off stage. Most of the time they sit quietly in the corners of the playing area when other scenes are playing.

First published by Sardines:
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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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