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Look at Your Palm at Ovalhouse | Review

Look At Your PalmeAndrew Love (Sean Chamunorwa) encounters a Drunk Man (Rhys Turner) whilst going about his business. Whether or not the hatred and venom that the drunk man has towards people is fuelled by That Referendum is really left for the audience to determine – my own view, for the record, is that his aggression was primarily a manifestation of being intoxicated before anything else. But what occurs is still nothing short of a hate crime, and so there’s justification in the anger that arises from the likes of Andrew’s wife Stella (Penelope Bosworth) and their daughter Venus (Naomi Fraser).

Fury is quick to manifest itself throughout the play, and just as quickly simmers down again. It has been some years since I have watched television soap operas – and even when I had to as a child (compulsory family viewing and all that) I thought a good number of characters were in dire need of anger management. The yelling that goes on in Look At Your Palm does have more meaningful context and gravitas than, say, a landlady on a mission to ban anyone from her establishment by shrieking at them to get out of her pub.

But the shouting still reminded me of those soaps. The key difference is that the people in this play had the decency to apologise and actively make amends in an appropriate way, rather than bitterness fuelling more bitterness. The more aggressive approach may make good television, and perhaps good theatre, but this production seems to seek to want to portray people as they would be in the real world rather than performing to the gallery.

The set is relatively sparse, with a few boxes and a small raised platform, and only a few props. It was, nonetheless, easy to work out whether a scene was, for instance, in the family front room, Stella’s good friend Annabel’s place, or out on the streets, a testament to the strength of Mo Korede Sowole’s writing. This is fringe theatre as it should be – gritty, absorbing, edge-of-the-seat stuff that leaves one in no doubt that one has seen something substantial and worthwhile.

Venus is mixed race, which, particularly in London, begs the question, “so what?” Venus, however, is the subject – believe it or not, in this day and age – of derogatory remarks because people such as Brandon (Sowole) want to class her as ‘white’ or ‘black’, for whatever reason. Finding they are unable to do so, they decide she cannot identify with either: “What are you, then?” he virtually screams in her face. It’s a concept I’m still struggling to get my head around (and if I’m honest, I rather like it that way). Meanwhile, the mother-daughter relationship between Stella and Venus is again like something out of a television soap drama, with personal insults being flung around like confetti, though the reconciliation in closing minutes is better compared to a musical theatre happy ending, even if the narrative takes a late twist and the euphoria ends up being short-lived.

Nine on-stage characters and an additional five voiceovers might seem, at face value, a little overkill for a one-act play. But it allows for different perspectives to be asserted. Backstories are sometimes almost disregarded as a little superfluous, but in this play, they aid understanding of why people do the things they do and take up causes they believe are worth campaigning for. I wasn’t entirely clear exactly what “Justice for Andrew!” would involve, and what actions needed to be taken to realise that ambition, but the more salient point, it seems to me, is that people can accomplish so much more together than apart. An intriguing and thoughtful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Look At Your Palm is a piece that explores identity struggles in a socially divided world. This is not a show of who is wrong or right but rather about perspectives and nuances, diving straight into why people fight for the things they believe in.

IMAGIPHORIA STUDIOS
Look at Your Palm
Directed and written by Mo Korede Sowole
Look At Your Palm explores identity struggles in a socially divided world.
Fri 24 May – Sat 25 May, 7:00pm
https://www.ovalhouse.com

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