Review: One Under at Arcola Theatre

PUBLISHED: 09:38 16 December 2019 | UPDATED: 09:38 16 December 2019

Stanley J Browne and Reece Pantry in One Under. Picture: Patrick Baldwin.

Stanley J Browne and Reece Pantry in One Under. Picture: Patrick Baldwin.

© Patrick Baldwin 2019. All rights reserved.

First seen fifteen years ago, Winsome Pinnock’s study of lives stalled by a suicide is slimmed down and reimagined in this touring production by Graeae.

Reece Pantry and Clare-Louise English in One Under. Picture: Patrick Baldwin.Reece Pantry and Clare-Louise English in One Under. Picture: Patrick Baldwin.

The original play struggled to focus a surfeit of material about tube driver Cyrus and a troubled man, Sonny, who has leapt to his death in front of his train.

Where guilt was the dominant theme, mental health and grief are now in the foreground. The form - the last day of Sonny's life intercut with Cyrus' attempt to make sense of his suicide - still raises questions the play can't answer. But what shines through is Pinnock's compassion for her characters.

On a Scandinavian-minimalist set featuring a wooden bench, open-shelving and some audio-captioned screens cleverly doubling up with tube train announcements, the domestic and urban combine as a backdrop for Sonny, standing alone on a tube platform, about to jump.

As directed by Amit Sharma, the intention is to conjure a sense of the alienating nature of contemporary urban life as people's paths crisscross. Sharply choreographed movement is a feature. Even when lives collide, real connections are rarely made: Cyrus inveigles himself into Sonny's family after following Sonny's adoptive mother Nella home but why? Zoe, Sonny's sister, is damning about Cyrus' claims he's Sonny's real dad.

Other connections strain to convince that random acts of kindness pay off: Sonny sweeps Christine, a kind-hearted launderette employee off her feet but his stories that he's being followed by gang members mar their night of passion in a luxury hotel. Is he delusional? The play follows a detective format using flashbacks intercut with the immediate aftermath of his death depicting how his family copes with the tragic loss but the sense of paranoia conjured is a deliberate red-herring.

Indeed, Pinnock conflates the two key issues of mental health and the police stop-and-search policy - which is bound to engender paranoia - and scatters clues throughout, some tantalizingly oblique, others frustratingly crass.

Reece Pantry as Sonny keeps the audience guessing with a charming line in laddish banter that conceals the dark depths of his fantasies and Clare-Louise English as his gullible confidante is impressively touching.

Rating: 3/5.

Until December 21 at Arcola Theatre. More details here.

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