Albatross, Gate Theatre

Image result for albatross, gate theatre, paines plough

by Laura Kressly

There aren’t many writers who conjure stories the way Isley Lynn can. Her innate instinct for achingly human characters in situations rarely – if ever – seen on stage sets her well apart from most young playwrights. Her oeuvre includes Skin a Cat, a hilarious and necessary story of a young woman navigating dating and sex whilst unable to be vaginally penetrated, and Tether, the journey of a blind woman and her guide training for a marathon. These intimate stories leave a huge impact when set on stage, their echoes long reverberating with her audiences.

Albatross is the same, but takes a rather different narrative approach to her character-driven narratives. The collage of her unique stories are here pared down to moments where well intentioned, liberal people make all sorts of infuriating assumptions about those less fortunate. Rejection is rife. With a structure echoing that of La Ronde, the audience is gifted with the fruits of Lynn’s imaginations, but the play’s format does them a disservice by limiting them to snapshots. The ratio of running time to number of characters means that there are so many wonderful people that don’t have their full story shared. It’s a frustrating tease.

One of the sets of characters almost becomes the primary narrative and helps sent the tone from the rest of the snippets we see. A homeless woman, victim to life’s overwhelming burdens, asks an apprentice tattoo artist to bedeck her with an albatross around her neck. The artist, brimming with good intentions and open-mindedness, thinks he knows what’s best for this young woman and initially refuses. There are other, equally compelling narratives: Two women chat in the waiting room of a sexual health clinic. One thinks she’s knows the other – but doesn’t – and makes sweeping assumptions about her past. A lesbian couple, newly together, work through the imbalances in their relationship. There are more, often resulting in insufferable condescension. It’s riveting stuff. I want to see the rest of these characters’ stories.

The writing is dense and the direction pacy, with a lot to process and unpick. There’s a great range of character types, though more space for them to breathe would be welcomed. As the power imbalances unfold, there’s potential for the audience’s rage to build but it is rarely given the time to do so.

‘Instead of the cross, the Albatross about my neck was hung.’ We all have our burdens, and us liberal, middle class, cultural elite are quick to try to rescue those that don’t need or want to be saved. Lynn’s characters draw attention to this often ignored albatross that many of us wear, knowingly or not, but it would be great if they had more time to address the problem.

Albatross runs through 7 April.

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