“Where do you live?” It seems like such a simple question – but the enquiry takes on new significance with each repetition in Jericho’s Rose from Althea Theatre. Written by Lilac Yosiphon, who also directs along with Mike Cole and Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, it’s a moving and intriguing exploration of the true meaning of “home”, seen through the eyes of two characters. Jasmine is a writer fighting for the right to stay in London, and her grandfather, back in Tel Aviv, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For each of them, and for different reasons, answering the straightforward question “Where do you live?” becomes an increasingly difficult – and sometimes impossible – task.
The structure of the show is based around repetition: the frustrations of having the same conversations over and over with someone who doesn’t remember; the endless meetings with doctors who can never say anything new; the constant disappointment of being rejected – again – for a visa. All that really changes in Jasmine’s life over the course of the 75-minute show is her location, as she moves from one city to the next in search of… something. Even then, in each city her experience is much the same – drinking too much, having disappointing romantic encounters in nightclubs, and ultimately ending up back in Tel Aviv with Grandpa.
In other hands, this cyclical structure could easily teeter on the brink of tedium, and it’s credit to Lilac Yosiphon’s engaging, almost mesmerising performance as both Jasmine and Grandpa that this doesn’t happen. Slipping seamlessly from one character to the other – at times conversing with her other persona on stage, at others with her own recorded voice – she holds our attention throughout with ease.
This is fortunate, because the fragmented narrative of the piece, which hops around in time, location and style, does demand the audience’s constant focus in order to piece it all together. We’re aided in this, to some extent, by the use of music and loop pedalled sound, composed and performed live from the corner of the stage by Sam Elwin, and by Will Monks’ projections, both of which provide us with certain audiovisual signposts as we make our way through the show’s deliberately disorienting landscape.
For those of us privileged enough to have never questioned where we belong, this unique multi-sensory production paints a powerful picture of the trauma of displacement – whether physical or emotional – through the sharing of a very personal and poignant story. The eclectic nature of the show may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Jericho’s Rose is bold, original and invites us to consider themes we may think we understand in a whole new light.
In one of the stories that make up Althea Theatre’s One Last Thing (For Now), a British soldier serving in Afghanistan asks his friend: if he didn’t come back, what would be the last words his fiancée at home had heard from him? And would they be enough?
The power of words – both shared and withheld – is a theme running through the show, which was devised with the company by director Lilac Yosiphon, and brings together stories of lives and loves touched by conflict across the world and across history. An American husband can’t tell his wife the truth about the war and its effect on him. A woman from Colombia struggles to master the English language so she can plead for help for her husband, who’s been kidnapped by FARC guerrillas. A French wife and mother can’t escape the words written to her by a German soldier years before, and a teacher from Israel sets one of her students an assignment that proves to have a surprising significance for them both.
These are just a few of the many plotlines skilfully interwoven throughout the show, each introduced by a different company member and returned to later as each story unfolds and develops. The international nature of the stories requires a range of accents and even languages from the cast of eight (Josephine Arden, Sam Elwin, Carolina Herran, Cole Michaels, Katerina Ntroudi, Tom Shah, Elizabeth Stretton and Thomas Wingfield), and both they and dialect coach Laura Keele deserve a lot of credit for their almost flawless delivery, and easy transitions from one to the next.
And it’s not just accents that change; each cast member takes on more than one significant role in the show, juggling comedy and tragedy with equal skill, but even with no introduction there’d be no problem telling the very different characters apart. It’s hard to choose favourites amongst such a universally talented cast, so I won’t try… and to be honest, several of my personal highlights were the moments the actors formed an ensemble – moving, listening, reacting, even breathing as one. Each of these moments is carefully choreographed and staged for maximum visual impact, with the images that conclude both Acts 1 and 2 most striking.
There’s no set to speak of, though designer Elliott Squire has created a simple yet very effective backdrop made up of blank pages cascading to the floor, and the actors make creative use of a selection of items (a chair, a wooden chest, a trombone…) not to mention their own bodies, to fill in the gaps in each picture to the point where you don’t even notice what’s missing.
Though the play isn’t overtly political, it does have a few pointed comments to make about the impact of war on the individuals involved (both directly and indirectly), and on whether war is ever the answer. But there are moments that hit a little closer to home, too, like the seemingly lighthearted story of a carefree woman whose life has never been touched by conflict, or the harsh, insensitive treatment of an asylum seeker by a British journalist, who hears only what makes a good story and is deaf to her desperate pleas for help.
As in life, some of the stories in One Last Thing (For Now) end happily, others in tragedy. One has a shocking twist; some never conclude at all. There are a lot of distinct threads to this show, but combined they create a memorable and undeniably powerful portrayal of the universal human emotions that hold us all together, even in the worst of times and circumstances. Though not always an easy watch, it’s certainly an important – and recommended – one.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉
After more than two years in the making, Althea Theatre’s One Last Thing (For Now) has its world premiere at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre next month. Conceived by director Lilac Yosiphon, this ambitious project has been developed by the internationally diverse company, including cast members Tom Shah and Sam Elwin, and offers “a universal look at the language of love, the wounds of war and everything in between”.
The play’s creation was inspired by love letters from times of conflict in different cultures and languages. “The concept came from our director, Lilac, whose first instruction was to start reading,” says Tom. “Often they were the letters that were only intended to be read ‘should the worst happen’, and what is important to people in those situations – the words that they can’t leave unsaid – is more than enough inspiration.”
“Alongside discussing the letters’ common themes, we began to develop a physical language for the show,” continues Sam. “We then attempted writing our own letters and began writing scenes inspired by the stories that had stood out to us. We selected and adapted from this pool of scenes to create a number of more cohesive storylines, which we then overlapped with each other, using the physical language to bind them together and enhance the storytelling.”
The development process began in September 2014, when the basis for most of the storylines was formed. Sam explains: “The process is still ongoing; since the initial development process we’ve had a rehearsed reading of a full length version of the script and we have two more days of R&D (research and development) before rehearsals start, during which we’ll finalise the script. Moreover, rehearsals themselves are a process of devising and discovery, so the show will continue to develop and change during the rehearsal weeks.”
“Initially, it was about using the fact that we were a group of people of different ages, genders, and nationalities with different experiences to draw us to as wide and varied subjects as possible,” says Tom. “Since then we have periodically come back to One Last Thing (For Now) to get it to the point it’s at now. That said, we still have one more story to write; Islington will be our home for the duration of the show’s run, and we’ll be creating an entirely new scene based on letters sourced from the Islington borough.
“One of the themes of the show is that for all our differences, we have the fundamentals in common. We’re asking for letters from Islington that we will workshop with people from the borough to help create this brand new scene for the show. We want to make our show part of the local community, because with such a global spread of stories, we don’t want it to feel like it’s about other people.”
This additional scene is a crucial part of the audience experience, wherever the show is being performed. “We believe that everyone has a story that needs to be heard,” explains Sam. “The intention is to use the letters to inspire a new storyline or scene which is specific to the Islington area and will only be performed while the show is at the Old Red Lion – a new venue would result in a new scene being devised; again inspired by letters, emails, texts etc from the local area. We also wanted to create a direct link with the local community in the performance they would see. To give the audience a sense of ownership and participation – these stories belong to all of us in that they have shaped and continue to shape the world we live in.”
Dealing with such universal issues as love and war, the company hope that the show has something for everyone. “We can certainly all learn something from it, and indeed, since one if its primary themes is cross-cultural understanding, we hope everyone would,” says Sam. “That said, the people most likely to want to see it are those who are interested in stories from around the world; those who have experienced war, either through family and friends or directly; people with an interest in the history; and people who enjoy visually arresting theatre.”
Tom agrees, and adds, “I do think anyone would take something away from seeing the show, but it will probably resonate most with people who at one time or another have felt cut-off from the people they love. I hope audiences will leave with a better idea of what it is that’s important to them.”
The show brings together stories from several different conflicts across the world – stories that the cast have come to know well during the development process. “One of my favourites follows a Colombian woman as she travels the world in search of someone she loves,” says Tom. “Even though she’s from a country most of us have never been to (and probably couldn’t name the capital of), speaks another language, and the ‘foreign’ environment she finds herself in is London, our connection to her is almost instantaneous.”
Sam has a few favourites: “That’s a really tough question to answer, all of the stories are so special. I think three in particular stand out. One is a letter conversation between an American soldier in Vietnam and his wife at home in the US, because it highlights the gap between what is written home and what is experienced and the couple’s struggle to deal with that.
The second is a storyline concerning a French resistance fighter, because it asks how much can love forgive and can we escape the roles we have chosen for ourselves? Thirdly, the story about a woman who sends her touch, because it’s in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and Struwwelpeter – full of the fantastical and the macabre.”
The fact that the different stories cross so many historical and geographical borders inevitably presents some challenges: “First, with so many of the storylines featuring non-British characters we had to devise ways of translating or having enough English to be understood by English speakers without repeating ourselves,” explains Tom. “Second, was to have some form of connection between what could otherwise be unconnected stories from different times and places.”
“As part of this some of us have to learn new languages and accents,” adds Sam. “Russian and Hebrew were a particular challenge…”
He concludes: “I hope our audiences will go away with an empathy for people from countries other than their own, an insight into the effects of war after the shooting stops, a remembrance of those who have died on all sides, and a hope that these three things can reduce conflict.”