By Verity Kim
It is a rare experience to run home from a play, rushing through the snow in a state of sheer excitement, because there are so many feelings and words in your head that demand to be expressed in the form of a review. Lela & Co, Sightline Production’s first production of 2018, is if anything, a play that elicits such an experience. In short, it is a play that demands. It is a play that demands to be watched, with a message that demands, not merely to be heard, but to be acted upon.
Lela & Co centres entirely around the life of Lela, and her attempt to reclaim her voice through telling the story of her life, and it is as far from being your run-of-the-mill, heart-warming story that leaves you feeling fuzzy and happy inside. However, it is neither an unapproachably intimidating moral story that leaves you feeling stiff and sombre. Lela & Co’s brilliance comes from the fact that it defies categorization or easy comprehension, and that in being so, it is perfectly realistic in its vision.
Angharad Phillips’ directorial hand shines in each nook and cranny of the production, and what stands out particularly is how she crafts her vision of Lela’s world in a visceral, yet minimalistic way. Lela’s story is told on a near-empty stage, occupied by but two actors, nine wooden boxes and one pink neon sign announcing the title of the play. The wooden boxes are constantly moved around to create whatever structure might be required in a particular scene of the play, and the constant reordering of these boxes give the impression that quite literally, Lela is constructing her narrative in front of the audience. As if to empty up space for the monumental message it has to deliver, the play itself is intensely minimalistic, stripped of any fancy adornments or even the most mundane props. The play further comes to life through a verbal choreography, in which the words are quite physically thrown back and forth in a most forceful way, with Lela’s story always being interrupted in one way or another. There is a violence within the language, and the interruptions are staged as a medium by which the message of patriarchal violence and commodification of bodies is delivered. Thus, the stage never seems to be empty; in fact, over the course of the play, it seems to be barely large enough for the expanse of action and emotion taking place.
The breathtaking tension of Lela & Co also owes largely to its two very talented actors, who each commanded an intense stage presence. Rebecca Cadman, in the singularly most challenging and compelling role of Lela, gave a truly exceptional performance. The play, being essentially a one-woman monologue, demands a captivating presentation from the actress of Lela, and Cadman more than fulfils that requirement. From the very first line, she commandeers the spotlight, openly addressing the audience in an enticing manner, and her persuasively charming acting instantly endears Lela to the watcher. As the play progresses, Cadman’s performance intensifies, ranging from hysterical cheeriness to physically challenging sorrow, from self-contradictory optimism to cold, furious accusation. Her Lela refuses to let go of the audience’s attention for even a second, demanding to be looked at and heard, while simultaneously accusing the audience of a cruel, willful voyeurism.
Zac Tiplady, who plays four different characters, gives an equally persuasive presentation. He skilfully masters the challenge of shaping himself into four different personalities, switching from father to brother-in-law, to husband at the drop of a hat. adopting entirely different accents, mannerisms and personalities that made it quite evident which persona he was playing at the given moment. While clearly presenting diverse characters, Tiplady’s performance sustained a consistency as well, implying that the men he played were to some extent, cut out of the same fabric of patriarchal violence and male entitlement. The interaction between these two extremely gifted actors is delightful to watch, their interactions take on different nuances in which there is always a breathtaking tension.
There’s little to be said in conclusion about this play, only that it’s demanding for a reason. Lela & Co is a piece of theatre that demands something beyond attentiveness and sympathy; it demands that you listen—truly hear what is being said—and to go beyond that, outside that, and do something. So, go do it, comply with its ever-persuasive demands, and go watch this harrowing piece of theatre.
Lela & Co is playing at the Assembly Rooms theatre Friday 19th and Saturday 20th January 2018.
Book tickets here
Photograph: Glenn Hay