One Under – Review – Leeds Playhouse

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By Eve Luddington, November 2019

The newly re-opened Leeds Playhouse continues its first Courtyard Theatre season with Winsome Pinnock’s One Under, first seen in 2005 at The Tricycle Theatre (now Kiln). This touring production is commissioned by Ramps On the Moon which is running a six-year project aiming to ‘achieve a step change in the employment and artistic opportunities for disabled performers and creative teams, and… a cultural change in the participating organisations to enable accessibility to become a central part of their thinking and aesthetics.’

Leeds Playhouse, a strategic partner of Ramps On the Moon, has already made great strides in achieving these aims, with some excellent productions and a general policy of welcoming all ages, cultures and abilities as performers, creatives and audiences. This performance was well-attended by a richly diverse audience. Leeds Playhouse is a pioneering theatre, one that Yorkshire should be proud of.

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“Concept is interesting”

One Under has been re-modelled by the playwright for this 90-minute captioned and audio-described co-production by Graeae and Theatre Royal Plymouth. It’s directed by Amit Sharma.

The play begins in the moments immediately before and after Sonny, a young man of Afro-Caribbean descent, jumps under a London Underground train. Then, in a series of time-shifts, it explores his state of mind leading up to his suicide and how people he knows to a lesser or greater extent, relate to him in life and, after his death, to one another.

The concept is interesting and so is the basic question: was Sonny a deranged fantasist or was he really being pursued by gangsters and protected by a minder, as he sometimes claimed? Each character has their own idea about him, driven by their back-stories and relationship to him.

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“Lacked dynamism”

But what might have developed into an intriguing psychological thriller or a dramatic exploration of mental health, didn’t grow into either for my companion or me. Instead, we were left questioning Pinnock’s writing.

The characters are brought together in a series of coincidences which stretch audience belief. And, although the time-shifts offer background information, they happen so swiftly we have little time to get emotionally involved.

Sharma’s direction lacked dynamism so the production moved from one scene to another without gathering momentum and the final scene was more of a whimper than a climax.

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“Moments of profound emotion”

The Leeds Playhouse performance was further hindered by the staging. The multi-purpose set, designed for touring a range of venues, could have worked equally well on The Courtyard’s wide stage as on smaller ones but it looked lost: more focused lighting would have added intimacy and intensity, and might have helped the cast communicate.

Despite all the obstacles, the actors managed to produce some moments of profound emotion. Stanley J. Browne, as Cyrus, portrayed very effectively the wide-eyed horror of an engine driver whose train has run over a person, and his desperate search for answers when he believes that the man who committed suicide was his long-lost son. Reece Pantry, as Sonny, conveyed well the mercurial mood changes of a deeply disturbed man and Shenagh Govan (Mags and Nella) and Evlyne Oyedokun (Zoe) were both convincing.

images: Patrick Baldwin


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