Sunday 15 December 2019

One Under @ The Arcola Theatre

One Under @ The Arcola Theatre

Playwright Winsome Pinnock has revised her 2005 play One Under for this new production at the Arcola Theatre, in conjunction with Leicester Curve Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymouth and Graeae.

Despite its varying collaborators, One Under feels like a particularly London-focused narrative. A quiet, intimate portrait of grief, it depicts the before and aftermath of a suicide when a young black man jumps in front of a tube train. Its driver, Cyrus (Stanley J. Browne), is wrought with guilt and seeks information on Sonny (Reece Pantry), the man he killed, leading him to his family and a woman Sonny dated the night he died.

Graeae are known for their support of disabled and deaf people in theatre. Here, the set includes tube announcement boards that cleverly double as captioning screens, and the play's emphasis on mental health is a vital look at invisible disabilities in young men.

It is, however, a slow mystery. The play's structure jumps between past and present, piecing together the plot points of Sonny's final hours. It highlights key people in his life - his adopted mother Nella (Shenagh Govan), sister Zoe (Evlyne Oyedokun), and laundrette worker Christine (Clare-Louise English) - and the impact his death has had on their lives and regrets. Pantry, in particular, portrays an unpredictable young man who, by the end, we still never really get to know.

The play's opening, tragic event sets up a dramatic psychological thriller that never quite comes to fruition. Instead, it's a slow-burn exploration of grief with some poignant scenes from its cast, but a reliance on coincidence for its drama and a lack of focus in its meandering character-driven plot.

Amelia Jane Hankin's set design subtly mimics the Underground, but with few changes (nor with lighting) we're lulled rather than gripped by the story. The cast, though, offer some captivating performances, notably Govan and Oyedokun as adoptive mother and daughter whose relationship is sadly wrenched apart.


Watch: One Under runs at the Arcola Theatre until 21st December.

One Under @ The Arcola Theatre

One Under @ The Arcola Theatre
Photos: Patrick Baldwin