Lela & Co by Cordelia Lynn at The Royal Court Theatre

Katie West (Lela) and David Mumeni (A Man)
Katie West (Lela) and David Mumeni (A Man)
Photographer Helen Maybanks

A word of warning; the gaudy, circus atmosphere at the beginning of Lela and Co. doesn’t last. As Lela takes us through the story of her life so far the jolly red velvet curtains start to feel first like a womb, then a brothel, then a shroud.

This, all this, is the whole truth and nothing but” she says, and my goodness does she give it to us both barrels. But as I say, there is little hint of this to start with as Lela, dressed in a pretty party dress and grinning at us from a swing seat, chats gaily about her ordinary childhood in an unnamed country and her slightly dysfunctional family. The cheery smile wavers a little as we witness a beating that she received from her father for a childish crime she did not commit, but soon recovers. We beam back, reassured, little suspecting that this was just the first thread in the pattern that was to weave its way through Lela’s life; that of being disbelieved, dominated, and ultimately silenced by men. The play is described as a monologue, but in reality Lela is continually interrupted, shouted down and contradicted by a succession of men. It is a play about war – literally, but also a war between the men and Lela. If they can take control of the narrative, they take control of her.

Nevertheless, it comes as a brutal shock when Lela’s charming brother-in-law first abuses her himself, then sells her to one of his “business associates”.

Lela’s new husband takes his fifteen year old bride to his native country, also unnamed. There she is treated as his possession until, when war breaks out and money becomes tight, he decides to prostitute her out. Her world, once so endless and full of promise, is now reduced to one small mattress.

Writer Cordelia Lynn and director Jude Christian pile horror upon horror; just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. The lights go out and stay out during the most horrific moments, yet somehow the pitch black makes it worse; we imagine unnamed terrors and monsters in the dark and the snug little theatre suddenly becomes unbearably claustrophobic. A lit candle hardly helps; the feeble light flickering in the shadows only serves to highlight Lela’s desperation and despair. The dark humour is constantly present, but it cuts like a knife.

Katie West, as Lela, is a force of nature; her gushing volubility occasionally sputters, her brilliant smile sometimes dims, but you can see that, behind the pain in her eyes, her spirit still shines. The emotion and passion of her performance is draining to watch; how much more so must it be for her. She manages to keep us teetering on the brink of emotional overload; just when the constant barrage of awfulness causes you to start to become numb she picks open the wounds and the suffering begins again. She is ably supported by David Mumeni, who does a great, sinister job of all of the male roles. Having one man play all of the parts highlights the fact that, disparate though these characters may be, they are all essentially the same as far as Lela is concerned.

The most unbearable part of it all is that each of these men manages to convince himself that he is doing the best he can, the best for Lela, that she somehow wants or deserves what he is doing to her. The stark truth is staring them in the face, but they can’t, or won’t, see it.

This is a play which hurts, which frustrates, which makes you angry. So very, very angry; with the stupid men, with a world which won’t look, which can’t see. And yet it is also strangely beautiful. No matter what she has been through, Lela still refuses to be silenced. And if all the Lelas of this world can just keep talking, talking, talking, then there is still hope.

5 Star Rating

Review by Genni Trickett

Lela & Co by Cordelia Lynn
“As for what came next, things unspoken and untold until now, it happened like this…”
In the beginning was the mattress.
Gradually, other little changes – more bolts on the front door; the gun; the locked cupboard.
And she knew in her heart that change was bad.
The story of a young girl trapped in an increasingly tiny world.
“Thank you for your interest in Lela & Co. Please feel free to take a feedback form on your way out…”

Based on a true story.
First-time Royal Court playwright Cordelia Lynn teams up with director Jude Christian. Conceived by and Developed with Desara Bosnja and 1989 Productions Design by Ana Inés Jabares Pita, lighting by Oliver Fenwick and sound by David McSeveney.
Cast: David Mumeni and Katie West

The Royal Court Theatre’s work often includes adult content and language. Themes could include sexual violence and scenes of a disturbing nature. If you are worried about any potential themes please contact a member of our box office team who will be able to advice you on subject matter.
There will be haze effect used during this performance. Some of this performance takes place in complete darkness.

Cordelia Lynn took part in the 2012/13 Royal Court Writers Group. Her previous theatre credits include Believers Anonymous (Rosemary Branch) and After the War (ADC, Olivier Bristol).

Jude Christian’s theatre includes Harajuku Girls (Finborough), I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole (Gate, Boom Arts Portland), Bwyta Eliffant? Sut Mae Gwneud Hynny Dwedwch? / How Do You Eat An Elephant? (National Youth Theatre of Wales), Happy, The Mushroom (Pentabus), My Romantic History (English Theatre Berlin), Sonata Movements (Blue Elephant).
Opera includes ©alculated to Death (Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival London, Future Shorts Tokyo), Opera ‘Reflection’ workshop, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

Lela & Co. by Cordelia Lynn

The Big Idea is a strand of work at the Royal Court offering audiences radical thinking and provocative discussion inspired by the work on stage.

Lela & Co. is part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme, which aims to discover and support the next generation of world class playwrights, supported by Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Lela & Co.
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
3rd September to 3rd October 2015
Running time: approx 95 mins (no interval)
Age guidance 14+

Friday 11th September 2015

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