10 October 2018 (released)
The Ovalhouse theatre continues its tradition of presenting new and relevant social drama with its current production POT, a new play by Ambreen Razia, author of The Diary of a Hounslow Girl. Razia’s new work is set in a messy, shabby council flat in which a girl, Louisa (played by Sophia Leonie) appears to be both hiding and trapped at the same time. There is always something ominous threatening from the outside and although there is someone with her (Miles, played by Gamba Cole) who says he is there to protect her, she remains uncertain about his loyalty and his power to be of any use.
The claustrophobic atmosphere created by the setting works very effectively and reinforces the storyline - it’s a good image for the situation of someone trapped by her circumstances and at same time seeking protection. She can’t quite remember how she got there and why she’s locked in (the door to the flat is mysteriously locked) and that limited space effectively projects her inner and outer worlds, her fear, distrust, paranoia and anxiety to escape.
The third party in this scenario is Louisa’s boy-friend and drug-dealer Josh, played by Wahab Sheikh. Josh himself is an ambivalent character, struggling to preserve himself in a vicious world where he is himself vicious, and both using Louisa and at times appearing attached to her.
According to Razia, POT was inspired by the Tracy Miller autobiography, Sour, which tells the story of a girl member of a gang in Brixton on a destructive path until love (in the form of the birth of child) focuses and pushes her attention in a different direction. In POT the story is different but the main features of a girl trapped in a gang culture setting and the psychological issues involved feel the same.
The sense of belonging that everyone needs in Louisa’s life is offered by a gang culture instead of the family or workplace, but this gang-type of belonging appears both fragile and dangerous – love and death seem to be the only forces strong enough to pull someone out of this world. In this complex twist to the play, the device that Razia uses is a magical one – a dramatic shortcut that gives the girl a way out of a room in which she is trapped and leaves open a chance for transformation and hope – and there are some lovely visuals used to create that effect.
These are demanding, non-stop roles (80 minutes on stage) for the three actors who rise to the challenge and while the acting does justice to the play, the writing is obviously a stand-out feature. Based on the audience response, the play hit home on the night I was there and should continue to do so. The fate of young lives in the difficult circumstances where gang culture thrives is an area which needs more light thrown on it and this production has done that, in a realistic yet hopeful way. In the end, this is about Louisa, Miles and Josh and the focus on very individual lives is what makes POT interesting and totally engaging.