Half Breed, Soho Theatre

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by guest critic Maeve Ryan

In her small Wiltshire village, Jaz says she’s ‘as black as it goes’.  This is a beautifully made one woman show in which Natasha Marshall plays all the characters, but chiefly Jaz, a 17-year-young woman of mixed African and British parentage. Half Breed concerns self-identity and how self-acceptance can be the root to accepting others.  It also concerns the deep intensity of young female friendship, for it is also a love story between Jaz and her best friend Brogan.

Brogan is a wonderful character creation. Loud, brash and the product of the foster care system, her need for Jaz to stay in Wiltshire is greater than Jaz’s need to run away to London, where her Gran has applied, on Jaz’s behalf, to drama school.

Run indeed – Jaz wears running clothes, and her urge to escape the suffocation of the narrow minds around her is reflected in Natasha Marshall’s athletic performance. She works at full throttle yet her breath-based approach makes every pause a promise. The play’s rhythms build faster and faster to a crescendo, until there is no space for breath at all.

Mitchell (played, like all the characters, by Marshall) is a local lout whose relationship with Brogan leads to the girls’ friendship being tested. Particularly successful are the moments where we hear Jaz’s inner voice, which becomes louder and louder until the sweet, pleasing way that Jaz presents herself on the outside is completely shattered.

Marshall is also the writer of this piece, and shows much promise. The internal rhymes and couplets make deft punches yet never sacrifice the rhythm or pace of the production.  The stage is bare, save for the eleven lit rocks that hang upstage, reminding us of the time taken to build Brogan and Jaz’s relationship, rock by rock.  Music is used with precision by director Miranda Cromwell and sound designer Xana to add atmosphere, build tension, or indicate a location.

This is a tale of intense, young female friendship that many women may recognise. It explores how frustration over identity can lead to anger exploding outwards. Other characters portrayed onstage by Marshall include Jaz’s loving Gran, a village policeman and various gossips and pub goers, each more heightened than the next. The result is a terrifying collage of characters, and the village presented as a unified and destructive, surreal force.

This is a loving portrayal of an individual trying to find her place in the world. Themes of race, identity, difference, homophobia, female friendship and ambition collide in a satisfying, commendable performance by a talented young actor and writer.

Half Breed runs through 30 September.

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