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Review of Chasing Rainbows at Hoxton Hall

Chasing Rainbows at Hoxton Hall
Chasing Rainbows at Hoxton Hall

Stick to your own kind,” so the young and impressionable Maria is told in the musical West Side Story. Amanda Baptiste, known to her family and friends as Ama (Donna Berlin) heeds such advice when it came to matrimony, but in pretty much every other aspect of life, there’s a departure from what was expected of her. Put it this way: one cannot live ‘at home’ in the Caribbean and work for the UK Space Agency, as she ends up doing in order to realise her career ambitions. Indeed, her job description dictates that she quite literally cannot always be on the same planet as her family.

The set comprises a large canvas of what I suppose is the view from a spacecraft. Other than that, there’s Ama dressed in an orange spacesuit (no helmet), itself attached to a thick rope that to the naked eye goes up as far as the theatre’s ceiling. Whether the choice of an orange outfit by the production was suggestive of the orange ‘jumpsuit’ issued to detainees at Guantanamo Bay if the US authorities consider the prisoner ‘non-compliant’, I couldn’t possibly say. But Ama is ‘non-compliant’ with her mother, even if the hand that fed her hasn’t exactly helped a tense situation by deeming the “astronaut people” as “agents of Satan”.

It is an implausible remark – apart from its face value bizarreness, Ama’s mother doesn’t exactly disinherit her when she pursues a career in space exploration anyway (so has she sold her soul to the Devil or not?). The production uses the framework of a short video being recorded for broadcast at the high school her daughter Sola (Emmanuella Toure) will graduate from. (It fascinates me how many other countries have proper graduation ceremonies at high schools, whereas most British schools make do with ‘results day’, which involves tearing open envelopes containing examination results in the morning and being thrilled or disappointed with what a piece of paper says.)

As the video is being recorded, Ama attempts to answer some pre-prepared questions, and in the course of doing so, keeps getting side-tracked, going into considerable detail about that sort of challenges she has had to overcome. What struck me was Ama highlighting Western societies’ use of the term ‘black people’, as though it suggests, if not insinuates, that they are all too alike to have discernible differences between them. Ama does not, I hasten to add, play the race card, or the ‘triumph over adversity’ card, and in a deep and introspective play, there are moments of comic relief. I liked a series of statements about what possibilities could be open to her if she were hypothetically a man. Not that the statements themselves were (necessarily) agreeable, but it’s more to do with the poetry and the exquisite vocabulary deployed.

The audience doesn’t see the daughter, Sola, appear until fairly late on in the play, but she makes an immediate impact in her straightforward dealings with her mother, wasting no time in expressing her frustrations at an absent parent. It’s all very well sending a video, but most parents of graduating pupils are actually going to be there in person when the awards and honours are dished out. What’s interesting here is that Sola’s thoughts would be the same for a hypothetical absent father as it is for Amanda, as she calls her (not Mum or Mummy) – this isn’t always an easy play to watch, and it left me slightly exhausted by the curtain call, but it’s palpably compelling.

The use of poetry and rhyming couplets helped not only to condense the length of the narrative but to say so much succinctly. The audience gasped at a late plot twist, with justification, and in a production heavily reliant on good old-fashioned storytelling, the play is written well, paced well, and performed well. Riveting from beginning to end.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

On the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Hoxton Hall is delighted to present their latest production, Chasing Rainbows.

Chasing Rainbows skilfully unveils the story of Ama, driven, accomplished, she’s set to be the first Caribbean woman in space. This striking aerial performance lyrically captures a universal story about the tensions of contemporary motherhood.

Ama is ambitious, resisting conformity determined to make something of her life. However, instead of being considered an inspiration to other little girls with big dreams, Ama is condemned as a ruthless career woman who abandoned her child in order to pursue her career goals. As she orbits the Earth, she prepares an address for her daughter’s graduation ceremony. Whilst doing so, she considers the loss that taints her success and the cost of “chasing rainbows”.

Inspired by Trinidadian born aerospace engineer, Dr Camille Alleyne, Chasing Rainbows looks at the challenges of balancing a career with motherhood.

Recommended Age: 12+, contains strong language.

Writer: Oneness Sankara
Commissioned and produced by Hoxton Hall’s Artistic Director: Karena Johnson
Casting Director: Briony Barnett
Cast: Donna Berlin & Emmanuella Toure
Designer: Libby Watson
Lighting Designer: Rob Callender
Sound Designer: Andrew Williams
Movement: Merryn Novelle & Lucy Francis
Aerial Consultant: AirCraft Circus Performance
This production is supported by Pride Magazine
https://www.hoxtonhall.co.uk/

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