According to the old song, “A mule is an animal with long, funny ears, He kicks up at anything he hears, His back is brawny and his brain is weak, He’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak” However, there is a much nastier side to the word and demonstrated in Kat Woods harrowing one-act play Mule at the Omnibus in Clapham.
Based on a true story, Mule starts with a series of projected text messages (good work by Video Designer Carrie Shearman) between two sisters from Ireland. One having recently lost her job is heading off to spend the summer in Ibiza, while the other stays home and relays messages. As time goes on, things seem to be going okay, and then suddenly the messages stop, the phone goes unanswered and voicemails aren’t replied to. The home-based sister is getting more worried and upset and eventually calls in the Police to find her sibling, which they do, sitting in a Peruvian jail where she, along with another girl, are accused of drug smuggling.
Before doing anything else, it’s time to give a huge round of applause to Writer/Director Kat Woods and her phenomenal cast – Aoife Lennon and Edith Poor – for producing a truly harrowing tale of the times we live in. Aoife and Edith play a multitude of roles as the story unfolds including: the accused girls, a tabloid reporter, prison guards, a nightclub owner etc etc using only their bodies and a range of accents – that all sound perfectly natural – to convey each one. And it really works. As characters flitted in and out of the girls’ lives, the audience never had any issue working out who was portraying who. These two young actresses really were fantastic together and had a lovely chemistry between them.
The set was sparse, just two boxes and a black back-drop – with a sort of plastic booth in it – and, as such was very flexible playing a variety of different locations. This was enhanced by the lighting and the use of video – especially when it reflected the tabloid ‘void of facts’ headlines that appeared in the papers as the ‘friendly’ journalist took down the story.
Like many people, I have read of mules getting caught and being sent to prison and made an instant judgement that they deserve to rot there. And like many people, I have forgotten that we are talking about human beings with their own story to tell of how they got to this point in their lives. Mule makes the audience do just that. Unusually for a play of this type, the writing itself does not lead the viewer in any definite direction and the girls are portrayed as normal flawed human beings who made decisions that turned out to be completely wrong – and let’s be honest, who hasn’t done that in their life? I think, if I do have any criticism of Mule then the play just wasn’t quite long enough. For example, there was no indication of any support from the girls’ respective embassies, of which I’m sure there would have been some. However, this is probably a secondary concern and definitely did not diminish my enjoyment of the production overall. And there was a lot to enjoy. For a play covering such a dark subject, there was a surprisingly large amount of humour in the writing to balance against some of the more emotional parts and stop it becoming overwhelming.
Summing up then, Mule tackles an extremely difficult and emotive subject in a splendidly non-judgemental way. The story is told in a full and frank manner and is there for the audience to see, digest and decide our own opinion of these girls who moved from Ibizan party heaven to Peruvian hell though a series of unfortunate decisions. A seriously great production from start to finish.
Review by Terry Eastham
Inspired by the topical and real events of ‘the Peru Two’, Mule is a gripping two-hander which explores the murky, hedonistic world of drug smuggling and its apparent female-isation. The play, produced by Omnibus, South London’s vibrant multi-arts venue, celebrates its London Premiere with a triumphant two week run in the capital this November following its success at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
Mule is Irish playwright and director Kat Woods’ third play, critically-acclaimed for previous works, Belfast Boy and Wasted. She is an Omnibus associate writer and Mule is Omnibus’ first production at the Edinbrugh Fringe. Through its Artist Development Programme, Omnibus, whose patrons include Michael Gambon, Richard Eyre and Matthew Warchus, worked with Woods to bring her play to fruition. First workshopped as a preview production and refined over a period of months, word spread at the Fringe about the crisp production in which actors Edith Poor and Aoife Lennon played the two hapless girls, as well as an impressive array of associated characters, 28 in total between them. This November, theatre goers who missesd the Edinburgh Fringe will have the opportunity to see the play at his home venue.
The story of the Peru Two first caught Woods’ attention in 2013 when the young women Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum hit the headlines and were vilified in the press. Recent developments over this summer in their case, culminating in Reid’s controversial release pulled this timely play into sharp focus. Woods’ vivid imagination skillfully weaves a complex tale of manipulation and betrayal – a must-see at Omnibus.
When: 8 – 19 Nov (excl Sun 13 and Mon 14)
Where: Omnibus, 1 Clapham Common Northside, SW4 0QW
Time: 7.30pm, running time 55 mins