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Review of Half Breed at Soho Theatre

Soho Theatre Half Breed - Photo by Richard Davenport
Soho Theatre Half Breed – Photo by Richard Davenport

It is a credit to anyone who can hold an audience’s attention for an hour with only themselves – and a few lights – gracing the stage. Natasha Marshall, as Jazmin, does just this, using the poetic verse and grotesque characters she has penned to entertain and disgust us as she recounts her plight out of her extremely white, and hugely ignorant, West Country village.

Jaz and Brogan, her best friend, are in crisis. They each want different things. Jaz wants to escape the small town mentality and find her place in London, fulfilling her grandmother’s wish by auditioning for drama school. Brogan wants to become a mum, and looks set to achieve her wish imminently. She is 17. The friendship between these two is lovely – playful and endearing – as they discuss their dreams beneath their special, magic tree. Yet when Jaz sees something she shouldn’t, it threatens to rock the very foundations upon which their friendship is built.

Jaz is hugely likeable – she seems far more believable and natural than the characters she portrays. Yet it becomes clear that we are here to see things from her point of view, and the overblown, stereotypical characterisations of the nosy gossips, the yobs and louts, even the Indian in the curry house, become enjoyable, given the stupidity that Jaz imbues in them. She is trapped in a predominantly white, racist area that, as a mixed-race kid, she finds perpetually confusing. Should she laugh along with the ‘banter’ in the pub to avoid these vultures rounding on her? Or should she speak out, defending the ‘black’ part of her heritage, and shame the banterers into silence? As a teenager, these questions are difficult, causing turmoil in a girl who is already trying to figure out who she is.

The greatest strength of this pared-back show, directed with simplicity by Miranda Cromwell, is the writing. Marshall uses poetry (or rather a spoken word verse) intermittently to create rhythm, and to propel and build emotion. There is a wonderful section where the writing perfectly reflects Jaz’s confused, cloudy state, jarring and whirling and resetting, like a robot, as Jaz tries to see clearly through the murk. Accompanied by a haunting soundtrack, and with only various hanging lights (designed by Amy Mae) for company on stage, Marshall’s tense, angry resentment bubbles to its climactic end, leaving the audience in no doubt as to Jaz’s intentions. Yet whilst ‘getting out’ of a suffocating situation is to be applauded, it is unclear whether this will actually lead to change in the people left behind. For Half Breed to inevitably challenge and usurp the relentless prejudice embedded within this small-town community (and communities like this), it is essential that individuals can see themselves reflected in the show, which given the huge characterisation and unfathomable ignorance presented, remains to be seen.

4 stars

Review by Amy Stow

‘I am that mixed raced kid, like 50/50, on the fence, lukewarm, in-between maybe. Trust me, around here I’m about as black as it goes…’
Jazmin feels different. She doesn’t want to stay in the village. She doesn’t want to have a baby. She doesn’t want to laugh at racist jokes in the local pub. She’s got to get out.

Developed by Talawa Theatre Company and Soho Theatre Writer’s Lab, this is a partly autobiographical dark comedy about finding your voice. Written and performed by Alfred Fagon Award and Soho Young Writers’ Award 2016 shortlisted writer Natasha Marshall.

Age Recommendation: 14+
Running Time: Approx 60mins
Booking to 30th September 2017
http://www.sohotheatre.com/

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