REVIEW: My One True Friend, Tristan Bates Theatre

While there are moments of potential in Alexander Matthews play, it doesn’t quite go into enough depth with regards to the topics it is trying to discuss.

(c) Mark Senior

Inspired by his time spent in Rhodesia between 1976 and 1985, it is a shame that there is a lack of depth to be found in this play – particularly when it has relevancy to society today.

It is the day of Lady L’s 60th Birthday party but all is not well – with her two children Oonagh and Gordon bickering constantly about their rights and privileges, while on the other side of the estate her loyal servant Kapenie is arguing with his grandson about the loyalty he feels to his sharp tongued employer who is harsh towards him.

The purpose of this play is to explore topics of privilege and racism but because of the two completely opposite stories that are taking place it doesn’t come across as coherent. While it seems as though the main focus should be Kapenie and Lady L’s relationship – which is the most interesting factor about the story, instead more focus is placed on Lady L’s children which doesn’t sit quite right in the context with the rest of the story.

It is a real shame as there is potential to be found in this play and with further development could become quite compelling to watch unfold – particularly when focusing on the racism element of the story. In particular the sharper moments in which the language towards Kapenie is used via voiceovers and Lady L’s sharp tongue make an impact . But there is too much time taken in developing each scene to create enough drama to be completely satisfying . This is seen towards the end when Lady L sees what Kapenie is exposed to in the world, finishing the play on a somewhat abrupt note. Neither issue of racism and privilege are explored satisfactorily, leaving the audience with more questions than answers.

Matthews use of lyrical language is interesting and engaging, but can make it difficult to engage properly with the characters. The moments in which it works the best is in George’s urging of Kapenie to leave Lady L’s employment – adding a tenderness to proceedings that can be lacking elsewhere.

Director Antony Law has created a production that is filled with plenty of passion and energy that is reflected through the performances. In particular Mensah Bediako’s quiet and understated performance as Kapenie is a nice contrast to Suzanna Hamilton’s sharp and snobbish Lady L, while Joseph Rowe also puts in strong support as George.

Elsewhere, Adrian Gee’s set design suitably sets the scene, capturing both Lady L’s own isolation from her family and Kapenie’s isolation from society. Perhaps the sound effects and voiceovers could have been done more effectively but does get across the message of the terror that existed in Rhodesia at that time.

Overall, there is potential to be found in My One True Friend but it does need a lot more work in the writing to give the story and characters more depth to be completely compelling.

By Emma Clarendon

My One True Friend continues to play at the Tristan Bates Theatre until the 14th September.

Rating: ⭐⭐

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