Telling a round about tale

anice McKenzie as Phyllis and Sarah Manners daughter Angela.

Grandmother and daughter: Janice McKenzie as Phyllis and Sarah Manners daughter Angela. Pictures: Graeme Braidwood

Circles

Birmingham Rep Door

*****

Rachel De-lahay is an exceptionally talented and compelling new writer, who, at the age of 29 has already won an clutch of prestigious awards including the Writers Guild Award for best play in 2012 and the Alfred Fagan award in 2011 for her first play The Westbridge.

Handsworth born De-lahay was Birmingham Rep’s Perason Playwright in Residence last year  and this year the Door premieres her new play, Circles. A strikingly vivid story set on the infamous route of the number Eleven bus, something that De-lahay and indeed of which the rest of Birmingham should be immensely proud.

The bold set designed by Bob Bailey is as striking as De-lahay’s script, making the breathtakingly raw plot seem even more profound. The sharp and scratched plastic surroundings that many of us are so accustomed to see on a daily basis provides the backdrop of what becomes the isles of the Outer Circle and the lonely home of Phyllis, creating a strikingly cold insight to a city bursting with seeming atmosphere.

De-lahay’s has a wonderful gift of presenting severe topics with deep empathy. Without an interval, the audience are taken through a experience which definitely caused shortness of breath by the end of the show.

She presents Three generations of women, Grandmother Phyllis played by the captivating Jackie Mckenzie who sees her own daughter and grandchild go through the same harrowing experience that she herself had to endure in her past of domestic violence.

Even though this is not played out on stage, the frightening references within the script are enough for the audience to feel the haunting reality of female violence. De-lahay approaches this tragic reality, sometimes not easy to watch, with a strikingly raw precision.

Danusia Samal  as Demi

 

Director Tessa Walker tackles the edgy subject with pure empathy. Scenes between mother Phyllis and Daughter Angela, portrayed beautifully by Sarah Manners, are at times heart breaking and Walker captures the essence of the broken relationship of the two women, a relationship in which the only thing they have in common is their shared experience of violence from men.

Adjacent to the unbelievable pain and long-lasting sadness, Walker also presents the unique qualities of Birmingham that no other city has to offer. The cheeky and carefree attitudes of teenagers Malachi and Demi represent a proud asset of the individuality of each and every person who make up this city. Walker made sure that every local reference and witty line injected fun and fond celebration for the audience to celebrate.

The phenomenal cast of four were a sublime asset to the gritty story. Each gave a distinctive quality to their role that bought out the emotional plot all the more. This was especially true for Toyin Kinch, the only male of the cast who played mischievous and tragically naive teenager Malachi. Kinch added an organic exuberance and was sure to put a smile on every audience member’s face whenever he stepped foot on stage. De-lahay hits us hard with a wrenching twist within the story which causes an excruciatingly emotional end to the play.

London actress Danusia Samal delivers her role as Demi as if she were a Birmingham native herself. Samal shows great understanding for the troubled and isolated teenager who takes the nightly ride on the Outer Circle with a hidden agenda. Samal presents the guarded and troubled Demi with excellent precision.

Janice McKenzie give us an intense account of Phyllis, a woman pounded by years of grief and endurance. She shows the hopeless mother of Angela and grandmother to Demi with a truly mesmerising effect.

Daughter Angela played by Sarah Manners was as equally stunning in performance. An extremely wounded and emotional character from many events and experiences, Manners captures the sense of a lost and broken mother that is shockingly painful. Moments between McKenzie and Manners as mother and daughter are truly harrowing at times.

This is a play that cast, crew, writer and indeed the rest of the city should be proud of. It is the raw element of Birmingham that many people are so used to within the city that makes this play so approachable. Penned by a master of words, this show is a remarkable statement of a deep subject which was presented with superb quality. To 24-05-14

Elizabeth Halpin

15-05-14 

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