Albatross opens on a frenetic description of a grand design for a whole-body tattoo delivered at exceptional pace by Jodie (Sarel Madziya). She is immediately cut down to size by tattooist apprentice Kit (Emily Pemberton) who narrows her options asking her to choose only one part of the design as described. A clearly crestfallen Jodie focuses in on the albatross she has described on her chest. Later, we discover that Kit is uncomfortable about tattooing the benighted bird, given its symbolism. But this is a slightly confusing revelation as it is her doing that the tattoo has become just the Albatross.
This is quite a good metaphor for the play as a whole. It is stuffed full of many, many (many) interesting starts and storylines – but the desire of the playwright (as explained in her introductory note in the printed version of the play) to make sure everyone has a turn at being a protagonist means that many interesting stories are started and few satisfactory conclusions are reached.
It is reasonable not to want to spoon-feed an audience and allow them to enter the lives of your characters through vignettes and snapshots. But, for me, this was done at too great a distance and too much of my ability to emotionally connect with the characters and their stories were lost to not knowing quite enough about what was going on. It was all tantalising hints – but eventually, tantalisation has to have a payoff and we never quite got there.
The closest the play came was in the penultimate scene where again a bravura performance from Sarel Madziya’s Jodie makes it clear that this is a play about all of us – and how we could all have experienced the same fate. This was, for me, the highlight of the piece and was slightly ruined by the next scene which felt unnecessary and tacked on.
The staging was also fast and frenetic, with characters pacing between scenes as they moved the minimal set around in ways that didn’t quite make it clear to me what they indicated.
I did really like the device of moving between two-handed scenes taking one character from each on to the next, like a literary game of Chinese Whispers (does that have a more PC term now? It almost certainly should!). It did help you to get to know some of the characters a little better (though having some actors play more than one character confused this somewhat).
Albatross is intriguing. It feels sometimes like a writing exercise that has developed a life of its own, but for that, the writing itself is superb. It just needs a little more structure in terms of the story
- Written by Isley Lynn
- Directed by Jess Edwards.
- Photo by Hannah Ellison
- Cast: Samarge Hamilton, Emily Pemberton, Aaron Douglas, Sarel Madziya, Nemide May and Louissin-Torah Pilikian
- The Playground Theatre
- Unil 6 November 2021
- Time: 19:30