Review by Sam Waite
Politics is a risky business – writing a work of fiction based on recent United States politics is riskier still. For that, the team behind Someone of Significance ought to be commended, the most recent elections being as fraught and newsworthy as they prove to be. While a full-length version of the play is being developed under the Young Vic’s Neighbourhood Voices Programme, the current version made a recent debut as part of the Vaults Festival, playing at Waterloo’s Network Theatre.
The story follows Brad and Rosie, colleagues and eventual adversaries, as they begin a casual affair which ends up continuing for years in the background of their working lives. Both initially working in finance and disagreeing over a real-estate development he feels is a good idea but she counters will once again price out the working classes, she eventually sets her sites on senatorship and the presidency, all while publicly smearing Brad in the daytime and hiding with him in hotel rooms by night.
Amalia Kontesi’s script shows promise, and with more time to flesh out the ideas on show this could become a more biting satire. Unfortunately, little of this potential is fulfilled in this iteration, with the cracks in these time-tested story beats showing all too clearly – at one point Brad asks when they became such cliches, and as things stand it’s a valid question. The dialogue itself is serviceable and does a good job of creating early on a dynamic in which Rosie represents the put-down classes she wants to support while Brad is blithely unaware of such issues.
With the story making jumps of months and years at a time, each actor proves themselves to be better at handling certain parts of the couple’s long-gestating emotions than others. Brad seemed more at ease when the power dynamic was more traditional, a white man being casual and flirtatious with a black woman, but Simon Bass’s performance seemed to falter and fall flat when the dynamic was flipped by circumstance. Funlola Olufunwa was less consistent overall, but seemed to struggle with the high-strung, socially conscious diatribes her character went on in the earliest scenes. While Olufunwa brought a sense of genuine pleasure to the moments where Rosie has asserted herself and her power more fully, her ore heightened emotions seemed to be focused in intonation rather than genuine feeling.
Vasiliki Verousi provided both set and costume, and while the classic move of having a trio of wooden cubes able to be quickly moved to provide a new setting worked well, Verousi’s wardrobe suffered primarily from being over-used. With the actors never leaving the stage, director Sam Tannenbaum’s reliance on their constantly changing in and out of items of clothing made certain scenes feel more like an ill-conceived skit than part of a continuing narrative. Whether through over-deliberateness in Tannenbaum’s choice of movements or simply a lack of natural chemistry between the actors, there was also a forced, unnatural nature to much of their physical interaction.
Though a shaky start for this still-developing work, there are good ideas at play here, particularly the subtlety with which the idea of gentrification in BIPOC communities is allowed to hang over the story rather than being bluntly stated. Perhaps the team will find a sharper focus as the work continues to grow and being developed into a longer performance may give them time to sit with and more fully expand the existing ideas. Politics, as I said, are a risky business, and I admire all involved for taking that risk.
Someone of Significance had a limited run at the Network Theatre. VAULT Festival continues until 19th March. For full listings see vaultfestival.com
For more updates about the Young Vic’s Neighbourhood Voices programme, visit https://www.youngvic.org/taking-part/neighbourhood-theatre/neighbourhood-voices