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Review of This Restless State at the Ovalhouse

This Restless State Production Photo Photo Credit: The Other Richard
This Restless State Production Photo Credit: The Other Richard

It’s a restless play, This Restless State, and not a very pleasant one, either: the future, as imagined here, is bleaker than the present. But a dystopian vision is perhaps more interesting than a utopian one, and there’s also the play’s title to take into consideration. There are big jumps in the story, a journey from 1989 to either 2052 (as per the press release) or 2062 (which I’m quite certain I heard from the stage) via 2016, but with no intermediate stops along the way.

Jesse Fox, playing himself (or a character who just so happens to have the same name) in the present, begins with a preamble that is warm and engaging in tone but ultimately rather superfluous in terms of content. He is in danger of losing some members of the audience by mentioning, within the first minute, a particular referendum in the UK by its colloquial name – you know, the one beginning with ‘b’ and ending in ‘t’.

There are a sparse number of props, used within the first few scenes, leaving the rest of the show reliant on description and storytelling, assisted by some appropriate sound effects to go with the dystopia. The set resembles a wooden porch with benches, and there are no costume changes to go with the flitting about between past, present and future. The show is not made overly complicated despite not being strictly in chronological order – as I say, there are only three scenarios, and the big unanswered question for me with regards to this production is this. What on earth went on between 2016 and 2062 to get to a situation where draconian state controls in Europe are wilfully introduced after more referenda yield more surprising results?

The show seems so sure that the 2016 referendum result will lead to irreparably disastrous consequences across Europe (and further afield) that I wondered if it could also tell me what the numbers for next Saturday’s ‘Lotto’ draw will be. Elsewhere, there’s talk of David Hasselhoff, and Jesse’s parents downsizing – whether the two are meant to be interconnected in some way I couldn’t quite figure out. Bits of the narrative do intersect, and there’s some enjoyment to be had in piecing it all together.

The show is broader than it is deep. There’s the deeply personal, where Jesse talks about his attachment to the family home, which his parents have decided to move out of, now their offspring are grown up. Then there are the sweeping generalisations about everyone who voted differently to himself in the referendum (which he can’t seem to stop talking about, as if there is nothing else going on in the world at large), and a certain national newspaper’s political stance. Oh, and there’s a slightly irate digression into how apparently futile pursuing a career in the entertainment industry can be when work isn’t falling into one’s lap – make of that what you will.

There doesn’t seem to be a main plot, so the three storylines are competing for the audience’s attention. It was difficult to maintain interest to the end, partly because of a sense of detachment from characters other than Jesse whose conduct and behaviour were described rather than dramatised: it’s very much a one-person performance in more ways than one. There’s some food for thought in this production, but the show is too short – a full consideration of the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall could take up a play twice as long as this.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

East Berlin, 1989. Alone at the kitchen table, the radio on, Margot learns the wall has fallen and with it the only world she has ever known.

Rome, 2052. In the wake of a devastating refugee crisis and The Continental War, Galina waits in line, ready to cast her vote in the first Europe-wide referendum.

London, 2017. Jesse’s train pulls out from the platform, bearing him towards the home and childhood bedroom he’s about to see for the last time.

Combining intimate storytelling with evocative sound, this one-man show takes its audience across our continent’s past, present and future with a story of family, nationhood, conflict and love.

This Restless State builds on the success of Jesse Fox’s recent shows with his company Engineer Theatre Collective, which have seen his work nominated for various Off West End Awards and featured in The New Yorker. He is collaborating with Danielle Pearson, Playwright in Residence at the Watermill Theatre and the winner of the EU Collective Plays! Competition.

Age 14+
This Restless State
Created and performed by Jesse Fox | Written by Danielle Pearson | Directed by Jemima James


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