This surprisingly tender and intimate production might lack in substance in places but soon comes to life effectively.
As you enter the intimate space at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, the audience enters the seedy world of nightclubs and the lives of two toilet attendants, who have been in a relationship for a year.
With the music blaring at times, effectively conveying the nightclub atmosphere that suggests excitement for those coming to party, Counting Stars focuses on the lives and thoughts of Nigerian toilet attendants Abiodun and Sophie as they prepare for the busiest night of the year in Club Paradise: Valentine’s night.
Much of Atiha Sen Gupta’s play focuses on their relationship – without them having contact at all on stage. But it also gives us an insight into how society has changed in terms of its attitude towards romantic relationships and whether we have moved forward in terms of how we treat those different to us – specifically in terms of race.
Pooja Ghai’s production is sharp, focused and insightful in terms of ensuring that the audience’s attention is kept throughout. It might not be the most sophisticated of productions in terms of set, but it is certainly heartfelt.
The majority of the play is relatively focused on Abiodun and Sophie exchanging stories of their life together and the characters that they meet during their working hours. This is fine but at the same time, it tends to make you feel impatient and unable to see what Counting Stars is trying to say and it is only in the last final shocking moments of the play that really pack a punch.
The performances of Estella Daniels as Sophie and Lanre Malaolu as Abiodun are both charismatic and enjoyable to watch. Daniels as the constantly positive Sophie who loves her role as a toilet attendant and talking to the people who visit shows that she has a refreshing outlook on life, particularly when she helps Samantha through a relationship crisis. Daniels portrays her as a bubbly and lively personality, which perfectly complements Lanre Malaolu’s Abiodun – who dreams of a better life and although is quite sarcastic at times, Malaolu still manages to make him a likeable and almost charming character.
Together, the pair are able to switch between characters (there are six and the pair play them all) with ease and style that is a delight to watch.
Atiha Sen Gupta’s debut play What Fatima Did played at the Hampstead Theatre when she was 21 and led to her being nominated for the Evening Standard’s Most Promising Playwright Award. Will this have the same impact? Perhaps not to the same extent as the plot is lacking in substance, but with more depth it could be a powerful piece of work.
Pooja Ghai’s production is vibrant, energetic and heartfelt in a way that genuinely has the power to draw the audience into the character’s lives and make them care for them. An entertaining evening.
Counting Stars will play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until the 17th September. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/counting-stars/.