Scaffolding, high platforms, old and new wood, piles of dusty rubble and bits of old rubbish fill the vast, high-ceilinged space of The Yard Theatre. In amongst this post-apocalyptic building site sits a stark white wall, a pristine white floor and an array of bright white boxes of different sizes.
The lights come up and we are introduced to three women of differing ages, that we quickly learn are actually the same person that are gathered on a roof- top contemplating ending it all.
Each woman represents a different point in the same life with contrasting attitudes, varying memories and a differing idea as to what should happen next. After a bit of discussion they decide to have one more go and so make their way down the stairs to begin again.
It’s a clever way to introduce a concept. It clarifies what it is we’re about to see and helps us to instantly engage with the women as they begin their journey once more from birth. Strong physicality and a well staged passage of time leads us beautifully through a sweet and charming section of the woman’s childhood and manages to capture the wide eyed and optimistic innocence at the start of this life. This is executed beautifully but I can’t help but feel that the very fact that this character has the opportunity to have another go somehow makes the life we then witness seem of less value. Surely the core element of what makes life so precious is the very fact that we only get one shot at it?
Ida Bonnast plays the youngest self with wonderful energy. Her often-sulky teenage angst is fuelled with passionate talk of revolution, poetry and lesbian liaisons. She is filled with ‘a fiery fire’ that persists throughout the piece and is an idyllic part of the woman that you are constantly rooting for.
Katherine Manners’ sensible, grown up self takes over from Bonnast’s wide-eyed youthful optimism and we watch as the woman heads down a tragic path of subservience, compromise and sacrifice that leads to an unfulfilled life of playing happy families with an abusive husband and a career that does nothing to inspire. Manners plays this forced happiness with frantic yet tragic eyes and applies heart-breaking conviction to the dreadful and infuriatingly cliché choices she keeps making. She lives in a constant state of fear locked behind a fixed smile in an abusive relationship that she sees no escape from. We never really see why this shift happens or why the passionate revolutionary was quashed, but then there’s something incredibly true and all the more heart-wrenching in that. There is often no real reason why we make the choices we make. As women we slip with ease into relationships of oppression and a cultural responsibility to grow up and become the selfless wife and mother society expects of us.
The battle between the two grown-ups and the younger self is lovingly explored and a very powerful idea. In a literal cutting off of her outspoken younger self’s ideology, Manners and the older self (played by Karen Archer) take what they deem to be the correct and responsible approach at a key point in her life. The two elders leave the younger self behind in an attempt to be the woman they feel she needs to be. They leave, bags packed, to seize a potentially life affirming opportunity. She is in her flat alone and lost, her epic feelings of irrelevance lead her to drastic measures. It’s a heart-breaking thing to witness and highlights a moment we’ve all undoubtedly experienced.
Karen Archer as the eldest of the three is a joyous presence throughout the entire journey, providing a glorious moment-by-moment indulgence as she plays everything from cruel and abusive boyfriend to decadent lesbian lover. As the elder she is a constant voice of experience and cynical reflection. She talks of pets and spa holidays as the younger self shouts of revolution and anarchy. She wheels a case and wears a chiffon scarf as the younger dons a large backpack and heavy boots. The middle self wears a small bum bag as a lovely visual representation of the slow move towards more and more sensible luggage and holiday choices. A stepping-stone between hostel and hotel.
Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s dialogue is pacey yet poignant and Jamie Harper’s direction is energetic and keeps the story moving with great pace. He uses every inch of the space creating pockets of immense claustrophobia in tight corners and under the feet of the front row. The play is, for me, at it’s strongest when the women are all together. It’s a joy to watch as a tight collective and between them they capture the essence of the three parts of this one woman with wonderful clarity and passion. Each one seems essential in the sanity and happiness of the other and means that when left alone they became lost, unhappy and directionless. A wonderful monologue by Katherine Manners where she is alone in the company of her happy family reaches a glorious peak as images from the passion of her youth flash on the walls around her, taunting her, crowding her and causing a reaction like a desperate prisoner rattling her bars.
My biggest gripe was that I felt it should have ended 15 minutes before it actually did. Without giving too much away, there was a beautifully conclusive point where the piece had gone full circle and we were back once more on the rooftop. It was glorious. Then it didn’t end and we all sat baffled as to what the entire last section was about. My companion even made a point of sitting forward in her chair and intently listening in the hope that something at some point would make sense.
That aside this is a lovely piece of innovative, clever and intimate theatre. Support these women, support this lovely space and enjoy a wonderful exploration of how easy it is to lose our self, our dreams and our ideals.
Review by Kathryn Gardner
The Hundred We Are by Jonas Hassen Khemiri., Translated by Frank Perry
The Yard Theatre
Unit 2a, Queen’s Yard, Hackney Wick, E9 5EN
Tuesday 14 October – Saturday 8 November 8:00PM
Three women, three stories, one person. Whose life is it anyway?
Meet a trio of women: a young revolutionary, a middle-aged comfort junkie and an old truth seeker. Three individuals who are, in fact, the same person. Faced with this identity crisis, the three women battle to define themselves by re-telling the various versions of their life story. They travel the world/settle down, write radical poetry/study dental hygiene and fight for political change/accept the status quo. But whose story is true? And whose story will win?
Karen Archer (Number 3)
Ida Bonnast (Number 1)
Katherine Manners (Number 2)
Director – Jamie Harper
Writer – Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Translator – Frank Perry
Designer – Florence McHugh
Lighting Designer – Joshua Pharo
Monday 21st October 2014