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ArtsEd: Babel by Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen – Review

Babel is an online, post-lock-down piece of theatre written by Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen and performed by the 2020 students at the ArtsEd school of acting. With the conventional end of year showcases shut down by Covid 19, this is an excellent way of presenting the work of thirteen of their students.

Babel begins with the actors looking directly into the camera quoting the likes of Anne Frank, Confucius, Martin Luther King Jr, and Gandhi amongst others. The various characters are then introduced giving their points of view and setting up what’s to come. Then the screen then goes black and you’re taken to thirteen different windows with titles such a “Jaya’s Vlog”, “Leslie Says Goodbye”, “Kate Breaks Up” and “Roshan The Refugee” amongst others. The windows are all linked by lines drawn on-screen from one to another because as we’re to find out, everything and everybody is linked in one way or another.

It’s then up to the viewer to decide which window to click on and which story to listen to and in what order. Told mainly in monologue form although one or two are dialogues, the viewer has to try and piece together the jigsaw of the character’s lives. We hear stories about a tower that has been on fire (a nod to Grenfell?), stabbings, terrorism, radicalisation and alienation. We hear from single mums, disenfranchised young people, a right-wing politician and his unhappy wife, a therapist and her patient and more. As you bounce from window to window and character to character, a picture is built up of mainly unhappy people confused by the world around them. In a number of cases, they’re unable to deal with the fall-out of the incidents that they either have no control over or have been the instigators of, setting off a chain of events that affects them, their families and the bigger society that surrounds them.

Lai-Tuen has written a powerful piece of theatre that probably wouldn’t have worked so well live as it does online with its interactive element and Babel makes excellent use of current technology that we’ve come to see as the new theatre normal. It’s very well filmed and edited and is a big improvement on some of the Zoom productions that have become ubiquitous on our computer screens in such a short time.

Mingyu Lin directs her cast of thirteen superbly which must have been very difficult as presumably, she had to do it remotely. It would be unfair to single out any of the young cast who for the most part are excellent and if one of the reasons to produce the piece was as a showcase, it has done their chances of finding work when theatre returns, no harm at all.

The piece itself whilst well written and produced confuses at times and whilst Lai-Tuen’s writing is powerful and thought-provoking, it’s a little over ambitious and probably tries to hit too many targets at once and by doing so, misses some of them. However, having said that, Babel is a fine piece of work and everyone involved should be very pleased with all their efforts under what must have been difficult circumstances.

4 stars

Review by Alan Fitter

A voyeuristic exploration of the human impact of major London incidents, Babel exposes the tragedy that follows discord and disenfranchisement through a series of intimate personal stories.

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