Maddie by Josh Merritt at The Arcola Theatre | Review

Maddie (Evlyne Oyedokun) is on a journey. But aren’t quite a few plays out there about characters going on journeys of one kind or another? This one, however, is as physical as it is metaphorical – and it hardly takes a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to work this out, given that the play starts with a train announcement. Oddly, for a train going from the south coast to London Victoria, there’s no apology for the delay to the service and any inconvenience caused.

Maddie - Photo credit Robert Weideman.
Maddie – Photo credit Robert Weideman.

That, of course, is hardly the salient point. The audience are assumed to be other passengers on the train, and while other people’s sentiments on various subjects are acknowledged, there’s one topic that the production seems to insist on the audience agreeing to (whether they actually do or not) – fare dodging. Maddie, of no fixed abode, somehow not only has a smartphone but the ability to keep it charged. She flees to the train’s toilets whenever the revenue inspector comes around. The rules regarding tickets aren’t the same as the ones for face coverings – one can’t simply say one is exempt. My own view on this sort of thing? If you’re going to do it, don’t get caught.

There are some subtle but nonetheless impressive illusionary tricks that permeate the monologue (it would have been called Maddie and Friends or something if there were to be more characters). Alas, the nature of the ‘magic’ would be revealing too much if I said anything more than that about it.

Audience interaction – not, as I often say, the same as audience participation – helps to maintain interest in a steadily paced production. There’s no need to hurry: we are, after all, stuck on a train.

The play touches on lots of different issues, from family ties to substance abuse to the continuing stigma attached to homelessness and being on the autistic spectrum. Being a young woman, Maddie points out, doesn’t exactly help either, and there are several references that consider how the world at large favours the male species. The analysis is on a macro rather than a micro level – there are no personal attacks here. Inclusivity is literally writ large as the script appears on a screen at the rear of the stage – not that it was needed for most members of the audience, such was the clarity of every line spoken. But it doesn’t feel as though it covers too much ground too quickly, or that any of the topics weren’t covered in sufficient depth.

Oyedokun had a great ability to respond to the challenge of doing a play in an outdoor space (there is sufficient shelter from the elements, so the show goes on even in a downpour: there was only a light drizzle at the performance I attended). Some external noise from the street outside was incorporated brilliantly at one point, and what might have been distractions in another show were not even minor irritants in this one.

My usual gripe about one person plays only providing a single perspective only applies here at face value. For this is the kind of story not often seen on stage, and not one that spends time having a go at society, or the Government, or how the Government (mis)treats society, but one where a decent human being has found herself in difficult circumstances through no direct fault of her own, but continues to smile through it all. There’s food for thought in the laughter, though the show doesn’t pile on the guilt on anyone who complains about their lot in life when there are others who have it so much worse. Given the subject matter, this was a surprisingly positive and joyful experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

This new work which will debut at The Arcola’s ‘Today I Am Wiser Festival’ tells the story of ‘old soul’ Maddie who, accompanied by memories of Abey-Baby the cat and irregular texts from her Mum, returns from the coast to London, searching for happiness and answers in places she has been trying to escape her whole life.

Young, homeless, autistic, with a pathological compulsion to entertain, Maddie employs her talent for impressions, quick-change and magic to tell her life story. But as the coldest winter on record sets in and she’s forced to return to her childhood home, she will have to confront some hard truths.

This strangely uplifting piece is written and performed by autistic artists; writer Josh Merritt and actress Evlyne Oyedokun explored their own strategies for navigating their lives with director Nicky Allpress, who fell in love with Maddie throughout the Covid Pandemic.

Alsya Whitehead – set and costume design
Anna Short – Sound design
Chuma Emenbolu – lighting design
Kate Stables – assistant producer
Megan Wing – Assistant costume
Lee Wilkinson – marketing
Brendan Cunningham – Marketing
Phil Spencer – Social media
Sarah Davis – Assistant costume
Tom Stimpson MBE – Assistant set design

The Soldiers’ Arts Academy
Written by Josh Merritt
Directed by Nicky Allpress
Produced by Amanda Faber
Evlyne Oyedokun
Illusion Consultant
Wayne Fox

Arcola Theatre
12 November – 14 November 2021

1 thought on “Maddie by Josh Merritt at The Arcola Theatre | Review”

  1. Thank you Arcola for supporting these ‘alternative’ meaningful theatre productions with which you are bringing forward a whole new look at, what was, traditional theatre.
    But his this accolade to the theatre has also to include our very special Grandson, Josh. Josh’s biggest fans – aka Nan & Grandad.

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