No Particular Order, Theatre503

by Laura Kressly

An Optimist’s Take

Children’s TV performer Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Though horrific events drive Joel Tan’s eon-spanning play, it celebrates those who get us through the worst of times.

Four actors (Jules Chan, Pandora Colin, Pía Laborde-Noguez, and Daniel York Loh) play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by survivorship and hope. The cumulative effect of these people and their experiences is one where they blur into each other regardless of when and where their scenes unfold, but this doesn’t matter. It also tests the limits of each actor’s range with varying results – some characters aren’t particularly distinct. However, what resonates is that humanity keeps going because of its drive to look after each other.

Ingrid Hu’s set design is simple, but soft and timeless. White and black cloth forms a textured back wall and a pillowy, cloud-like ceiling that gently holds the cast of four. The transitions between each scene are clearly signalled with lighting and sound motifs. Their predictability is somewhat comforting because we know that despite the horrible things the characters experience in any given moment, their lives will eventually improve.

Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters and see how their stories unfold, by the end the human race-wide perseverance serves as a reminder that we are more powerful as a collective rather than individuals during times of adversity. Though this is an intimate staging with a small cast, it is boundless in its esteem for humanity.

A Pessimist’s Reflection

An eternal truism of the human race is that we are and forever will be awful to each other. In Joel Tan’s eon-spanning play, which is essentially a collage of short scenes both on our planet and beyond, his vast collection of characters inhabits times and places where war, dictatorship and violence shape their lives.

The cast of four (Jules Chan, Pandora Colin, Pía Laborde-Noguez, and Daniel York Loh) play what feels like dozens of characters across multiple cities, nations and worlds over more than 300 years. The people we meet in each self-contained scene of the episodic script are unrelated to all the others; instead they are brought together by shared horrific circumstances. The overarching effect is one of the never-ending despair and suffering that shape the human condition. There are no meaningless platitudes about things eventually looking up or rose-tinted views of the real world; instead we are reassured that our individual pain is real, but shared. Everyone is going through it, and always will be.

Designer Ingrid Hu uses drapes of plain black and white cloth to lower the theatre’s ceiling and line its walls. The neutral colours and pillowy shapes dampen the sound and create a timeless claustrophobia from which the cast cannot escape. The stark palate evokes the good-evil binary that shapes each of these people’s existence. Militaristic sound effects underpin each transition and relentlessly propel time forward.

Though it would be great to have more time with some of these characters to see how their stories unfold, by the end of the play the relentless conflict between groups of people (and other creatures) remind us that ultimately, most of us have little to no power within society’s hierarchies. However, we must keep going despite the injustice we endure because this is what really makes us human. Though this is an intimate production with many moments of care, Tan’s play is an epic reminder that people never change and we must simply do our best to carry on.

No Particular Order runs through 18 June.

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All Quiet On The Western Front, VAULT Festival

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By Zahid Fayyaz

First put on in 2015, this is a welcome return for Incognito Theatre’s adaptation of the novel and film of the life and trials of five German friends on the front during World War One. Fitting it all into an hour-long show is a tough task, but the five talented actors do extremely well to succeed in doing so. With minimal props and using the power of dialogue, they move from initial recruitment to punishing an overly arrogant corporal, to fighting on the front and being forced to reside in a military hospital.

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Aamira and Gad, VAULT Festival

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by Zahid Fayyaz

A site-specific play with a slight immersive element for the audience, this is the latest
production from new company Bee in my Beanie. They establish a framing sequence consisting of the Archivist Society looking at a ‘story’, with the head archivist portrayed as a magnificent, giant puppet. This is mainly the story of Aamira and Gad, two children on opposite sides of a border conflict, forced to come together following a sudden loss.

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Notch, VAULT Festival

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by Dora Bodrogi

CW: war, migration, mental health, homelessness

How do you cope when the promise of the West turns out to be a city in the midst of a housing crisis, and you’re only one pay check away from homelessness? A.A. (Danaja Wass) doesn’t really know.

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Antigone, New Diorama

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by Laura Kressly

In 2018, Lulu Raczka’s A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar) showed her talent for writing compelling, teenage girl characters. In a world that’s so keen to criticise and dismiss young women and their interests and emotions, Raczka’s writing legitimises them. By putting them in life-or-death scenarios, she shows they are empathetic and capable of making huge decisions that shouldn’t be made by anyone other than those much older than them, but they can still like boys and partying. This two-person take on Antigone zooms in on young sisters Ismene and Antigone, social outcasts due to actions by others in their family and who are forced to grow up much too quickly.

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World’s End, King’s Head Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

It’s 1998, 19-year-old Ben and his mum Viv are moving house again. This time, they’re cramming all their belongings into a one-bedroom ex-council flat in World’s End, Chelsea. They quickly make friends with their neighbours, Ylli and his son Besnik, who are Albanian refugees. The aspirational Viv is unfazed by the move but quiet and high-strung Ben can’t cope. He’s determined to shut himself away with his Nintendo, but the charming and confident Besnik has other ideas.

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The Time of Our Lies, Park Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

When Howard Zinn was a bombardier in WWII, his plane was too high up to see the damage caused by the bombs he dropped. As a young academic after the war, he visited some of these places, rebuilt but with civilian trauma still fresh in survivors’ minds. These experiences cemented a life-long opposition to war and social injustice, manifested in activism, writing and scholarship. He believed that learning about history was the best way to avoid repeating it, and that listening to the stories from anyone other than the victors is crucial to that learning process.

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Pizza Shop Heroes, Tara Arts

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by Laura Kressly

In an unassuming takeaway pizza place somewhere in London, four men answer the phones and process orders. They also reminisce about the journeys that led them there. From Afghanistan, Albania and Eritrea, they made their ways through war zones, deserts and detainment centres on their own, as children. Now they’re adults with hopes and dreams like anyone, but they are irrevocably shaped by their experienced as children seeking safety in a country that’s doing its best to deter them, and others like them, from living safe and peaceful lives. It’s time for us to listen to what they have to say.

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Edward II, Shakespeare’s Globe

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by Laura Kressly

Though King Edward II’s sexuality and the history surrounding his death are disputed by historians, Nick Bagnall takes a definitive stance in Marlowe’s history play. Here, the king is unquestionably gay and unashamed of his love for Piers Gaveston, one of his courtiers. It’s this unwavering love and devotion that gives ammunition to his enemies – a group of powerful barons, Scottish and French rulers, and even his wife – causing his violent and tragic downfall.

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