Friday 2 December 2011

Warm as a cuddle

Same Same, Oval House Theatre, London

Asha was born in a cubicle in a ladies’ loo at King’s Cross station at 17.13 on 2 July 1989. Her 21-year-old mother abandoned her there, returning quarter of an hour later to a now empty cubicle. On the cusp of her own 21st birthday, Asha still hasn’t met Nid, the mother who gave her up in her first few minutes of life.

Shireen Mula’s haze of a play peers inside the minds of both mother and daughter, separated by who knows what distance. Their thoughts seem to entwine together, as each reflects on their own past and imagines the other. The one’s reality is presented in the same register as the other’s dreams, so memories mingle with possible versions – some hopeful fantasies, others nervous nightmares – and you’re never entirely sure of the true picture. The narrative swirls like currents in smoke, perceptible but ungraspable.

In the most exquisite moment, they invent the same meeting, spotting one another across a street. A nervous wait outside Boots is filled with rehearsed hellos. A flicker of eye contact grows protracted and certain. The traffic lights turn amber, then red, but the pair never meet: in both versions an inattentive driver prevents them.

Same Same is elegant, eloquent and hugely empathetic, leaving a strong impression of the parent-child connection that exists only as an abstract idea and an ineffable sensation of longing. It captures mother’s need for daughter and vice versa, but also the fear that holds them back from acting upon it. Mula has a strong handle on multiplicity. She wisps casual contradictions and fleeting alternatives past us, and much like a scent that brushes smell-sensors to trigger a blurry half-memory, it bypasses the controlled mind. It is impossible to harvest every fragment (though the edges are softer and less defined than the word suggests), so the play goes to work beneath the surface. That Asha is mixed race only adds to the potency of her longing. Her need to place her mother grows into a wider cultural notion of heritage.

The play is also particularly strong on the accumulation of personality through experience and the onset of adulthood. The shards of memories seem embedded on the mind like the after-images caused by flashbulbs. In each, the exact time appears, as if the moment has been marked with a glance at some nearby clock face.

It’s bravely directed by Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe, who has Zoë Nicole’s Asha and Bharti Patel’s Nid walk concentric circles. They often brush shoulders, cross paths and momentarily fuse together before separating. The sense is of a magnetic field. It’s hypnotic, but soothingly so. Nicole and Patel renegotiate their relationship tenderly, turning on a sixpence but allowing moments to bleed together like running watercolours. Both speak the text beautifully, such that the words grow comforting and warm as a cuddle.

There’s a final shift in register that is either unnecessary or not handled boldly enough, but Same Same is a tender and poetic charm that will long linger in the memory.

Till 10 December 2011


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