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Misfits at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | Review

Mona Goodwin in Misfits, photo by Zbigniew Kotkiewicz.
Mona Goodwin in Misfits, photo by Zbigniew Kotkiewicz.

The cynic in me wants to rename this production Yet More Monologues in Lockdown, and while the various characters don’t interact (partly because their stories are set in different times and places, and partly because, well, you know, social distancing and all that) it’s put together very well. At just shy of two hours without an interval, there’s a lot to absorb in one go, but the audience gets to know each of the five on-stage characters, and quite a few of the off-stage ones, in some depth.

Daisy (Gemma Salter) has moved house twenty-three times in her life – her memories are astute enough to recall the exact number (I’ve met people who honestly can’t remember how many homes they’ve lived in).

Fiza (Mona Goodwin), meanwhile, is “newly single at 37 years old”, with “a bed and two boxes to [her] name”. Richard (Thomas Coombes), meanwhile, works (as far as I could deduce) for an estate agency, which to me sounds about as ‘Essex Man’ as one could get – inasmuch as it provides the suited and booted man with a lifestyle he could not otherwise afford – but he gets some stick from the friends he has retained from his school days for pursuing a career path nobody else in that peer group has even contemplated.

What links these stories is the emphasis placed on recalling what went on in their younger days. Fiza frequented clubs in Romford and surrounding areas – I happen to recall a poster from 1999 for a nightclub called Time with the strapline ‘Sorry London’, implying that partygoers who previously travelled into central London to attend nightclubs would instead go to a new one apparently just as good, but in Romford. Time became ‘Time & Envy’, then ‘Liquid & Envy’ and is now ‘ATIK Romford’.

Anyway, those were carefree days for Fiza. Richard, on the other hand, preferred pubs, and regaled the audience with stories of who said what to whom – not all of it palatable, but all of it highly believable. His is a coming of age story, and one in which he discovers that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side after all.

Schoolgirl Alice (Anne Odeke) is giving an assembly talk on Black History Month but finds herself being cut off before what her originally allocated time is up. As we only hear her side of the story, it remains to be seen whether the senior teacher’s intervention was appropriate. The audience is treated to the story Alice wanted to tell anyway: Joanna (Anne Odeke) enters a beauty pageant in Southend. No black woman has ever done this before (the pageant in question having taken place in 1908) and there is the opposition that one might expect, though a strict interpretation of the pageant’s rules does not actually bar ‘coloured’ women from entering, presumably as it was
assumed that such a situation would never arise. Either way, the organiser eventually relented, and what transpires is as amusing as it is frankly pitiful.

Steadily paced, the production flits between the various stories, which both individually and collectively become grittier with every layer of detail piled on. These are all working-class stories given centre stage, the theatrical equivalent of an LS Lowry (1887-1976) painting in its depiction of the world of ordinary people who one might encounter on the train or in the supermarket. It also reminded me of Standing At The Sky’s Edge, a show I went up to Sheffield to see, set in Yorkshire and about the everyday struggles of Yorkshire folk. Before the pandemic, it had secured a transfer to the National Theatre. Misfits, given a little tweaking, would just be as worthy of another run. The beauty of this piece of theatre is in its relative simplicity, in its relatability, and in its portrayal of an Essex its residents will recognise.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production
MISFITS by Anne Odeke, Guleraana Mir, Kenny Emson and Sadie Hasler

Co-director Emma Baggot
Co-director Douglas Rintoul
Lighting Designer Stephen Pemble
Sound Designer Adrienne Quartly
Video Designer Daniel Denton
Videographer Chris Faulkner
Costume Supervisor Nicola Thomas
Executive Producer Mathew Russell

Cast
Joanna/Alice Anne Odeke
Daisy Gemma Salter
Fiza Mona Goodwin
Tag (Richard) Thomas Coombes

https://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/

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