From the producers of the 2013 production Yellow Face, comes this thoughtful production of Jennifer Maisel’s play.
Every so often there comes along a piece of theatre that strikes a deeply personal note and for me, There or Here is certainly that piece of theatre that contains elements of a story that I can relate to. But despite this, there is a sense of emotional detachment in the way it has been presented which is slightly disappointing.
Jennifer Maisel’s play follows the story of Robyn and Ajay, a couple who due to serious illness are unable to have a child of their own and so rely on a surrogate who lives out in India to help. The whole piece covers a broad range of topics including relationships and race – sensitively and thoughtfully written that gives the audience plenty to think about.
But it has to be said the production itself, directed by Vik Sivalingham, is certainly a story of two contrasting sides. The first act, which flits and floats between a variety of years, feels very stilted and awkward offering more of a snapshot into Robyn and Ajay’s lives rather than a coherent story. It is a bit slow to start and difficult to get a grasp on where the story is going – particularly in the opening scenes in which a variety of different issues is discussed by Robyn and Ajay with little purpose or effect.
However, in contrast to this the second act flows a lot smoother and has more purpose and focus about it, particularly when Robyn and Ajay discover that not everything they thought they knew was true. The blow when it comes is quietly devastating and the audience can really feel their pain.
The main issue that runs through the whole production however is the sense of emotional detachment that Sivalingham has applied to the production. Everything about it feels remote and clinical which perhaps highlights the key issues that the play addresses but it can mean that the characters are difficult to get to know and develop our understanding of their conflicting emotions.
But the touches of humour that are dotted throughout the production work well in breaking through the tension – whether it is the various conversations that Robyn and Ajay have with characters they don’t know on the phone or the references to her mum Ellen’s new boyfriend – there is still joy to be found beneath the pain.
There is also some great performances from the cast. In particular, Ursula Mohan as Ellen is warmly affectionate and has some great moments of humour involving her boyfriend Raj (I really wanted to know what was coming through on her computer as she was talking to Robyn). She provides great support to Lucy Fenton’s increasingly confused and uncertain Robyn whose desire for a normal life despite her cancer diagnosis is painful and raw to watch through Fenton’s performance. Rakhee Thakrar also shines as a variety of characters who allow Robyn and Ajay to express how they are feeling – the way in which she delivers her lines is perfectly comical and wonderful to watch.
Overall, it is a bit of a hit and miss production of a play which on reflection could use a bit of editing to make the issues it brings up stand out a bit further. But it is sensitively written and performed to still make for an interesting evening.
There and Here continues to play at the Park Theatre until the 17th February. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/there-or-here