There is a palpable feeling of a cabaret bar on the Arcola stage in Nadia Latif’s latest offering. Written by Kristiana Rae Colón, Octagon follows the aspirations of 8 American poetry slammers as they speed through the qualifiers and attempt to prepare for the national slam, the dizzying heights of the Octagon. The elusive Iggy, their prize slammer, has left, and the core team of 3 must find a replacement, prompting various hopefuls to try out. Among them is Atticus, a mysterious brooding hulk of a man, who attracts the attention of Prism, a poet on the prowl. Their dangerous relationship – and Prism’s relationship with every man in the room – is the source of much contention, and threatens to upset the delicate fragility of this band of brothers.
With their journey being documented by a group of young (offstage) filmmakers, the lines between performance and the private are blurred; one is never quite sure when a character has stopped behaving as though they are being watched.
Interjected within the untangling of these relationships, 3-minute slams are delivered by these young hopefuls, which are then judged by a panel. Many of these poems are beautiful, angry, indignant – a particular favourite was passionately delivered by Crystal Condie as Jericho, entitled ‘Malala writes to Miley Cyrus,’ which was both funny and moving. Given the aural nature of the script, much attention is given to how the actors can use their bodies to create sound. Stomping, banging, catcalling and clapping evoke a visceral atmosphere, reminding us of the rhythm of words pulsating throughout the human body, and the natural urge to be heard. Indeed, there is much imagery surrounding the ‘throat’, a connection between the soul and the outside world, cementing one’s presence in the environment.
The set creates a bar-like atmosphere, with the upper level being used to represent domestic space (a living room, a bedroom), and the lower level comprising the bar and slam stage area. Spots are used to focus the audience’s attention in specific characters (useful given the roving, chaotic nature of the piece), and there is a particular set up for documentary interviews, which were intensely enjoyable, revealing shards of real insight into these characters’ history. It is this history, and the situational reality of this bunch of social misfits, that ultimately speaks volumes, and in this combination of poetry, politics and passion, Latif has created a production that is guaranteed not to disappoint.
Review by Amy Stow
Supporting Wall in association with Tabula Rasa Theatre presents
by Kristiana Rae Colón
Sep 16 2015 – Oct 17 2015
After Wall Street and Tahrir Square, after ISIS and the NSA, after Ferguson and Eric Garner: here come the poets.
In a downtown poetry slam eight young poets prepare to do battle. Personal stories and political struggles collide with a place on the team up for grabs. But in the end is it about winning, or finding the words that need to be said?
This unique ensemble performance fuses the frenetic energy of a live poetry gig with a heartfelt cry of protest from contemporary America. Fearless, compelling and utterly original, OCTAGON reunites director Nadia Latif with award-winning poet, playwright and activist Kristiana Rae Colon of the #LetUsBreathe Collective, alongside a stunning soundscape from Olivier Award-nominated composer Simon Slater (Constellations).
Directed by Nadia Latif
Designer Lorna Ritchie
Lighting Christopher Nairne
Sound/Composer Simon Slater
Costume Holly Rose Henshaw
Casting Advisor Annelie Powell
Cast: Lara Rossi, Crystal Condie, Estella Daniels, Martins Imhangbe, Solomon Israel, Harry Jardine, Leemore Marrett Jr and Asan N’Jie.
24 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes approximately (including interval).
Tuesday 22nd September 2015