REVIEW: Echoes, Arcola Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Last Updated on 18th November 2015

Echoes by Paul Naylor at Arcola Theatre
Photo: Rosalind Furlong

Arcola Theatre
17 November 2015
4 stars

There is very limited time for you to see this wonderful play. The current season at the Arcola Theatre ends on the 21st November and it’s one that really shouldn’t be missed. The play was awarded many accolades at its world premier this year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival including the Spirit of the Fringe Award. The season at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston Junction is the London premier and the house was full for the performance last night and should be for the remainder of its run.

Echoes is a success for many reasons but fundamentally it’s because there is such strength in the story telling. In fact there are 2 stories running concurrently and though the time periods in the stories are 175 years apart and told by 2 actors independently, there is such deep and meaningful symbiosis between them so that what can be a fragmented experience is a beautiful whole.

Obviously a lot of the kudos for this is due to the writing of Henry Naylor who has a string of writing credits to his name including his first straight play The Collector in 2014 as well as his writing for television and radio. He was also head writer for Spitting Image. Naylor has a fine touch as a satirist that is used to great effect in both The Collector and Echoes and he also has a fine way of painting pictures with words. Some of the images stay a long time in the mind. For instance the moment describing a Lieutenant as he holds a decaying, maggot-ridden fig in his hand and squeezes till it bursts.

Naylor was also co-director for this production along with Emma Butler. Their joint directorial treatment masterfully highlights those points of symbiosis as does the design aesthetic. The stage is bare other than for a bench and a stool; simple, black and set apart. 2 actors, one woman for one story and one for the second; one dressed in black and one in white and both dresses typical of time and place. The 2 actors move around the space delivering the story from different angles and only occasionally in the same place. Of particular beauty was the moment when both actors sat on the bench. They were together in the space and in the same position but worlds apart.

Echoes by Paul Naylor at Arcola Theatre
Photo: Rosalind Furlong

The other factor in the success of this production is the quality of the performance of the 2 actors. Their skills in story telling holds the audience enthralled from beginning to end, totally engaged.

The play begins with the story told by Felicity Houlbrooke as Tillie. Tillie comes from Ipswich and sails for the colony of India to find a husband rather then end up a spinster in her hometown. She has ideals of doing her duty for king and country and they are slowly and totally undermined by the behaviour of both her husband and the forces in the colony. Ms Houlbrooke plays all the characters in her story with clear definition, bringing to life the attitudes of her time and the character of her husband and others.

The parallel story is that of Samira and is told by Filipa Braganca. The story of Samira is set in the present time and is contemporary in every way. It sheds some light on sensitive current affairs concerning the conflicts in the Middle East and the involvement of Muslim young people all over he world. Samira is called to travel in order to become personally involved with the caliphate; to do her duty towards her beliefs. Like the story of Tillie, Samira is disillusioned both by husband and the treatment of others within the caliphate. Braganca’s performance skillfully invokes belief in her story. She and her acting partner Houlbrooke are beautifully and equally matched.

This is a very impressive play of graphic word images and riveting story telling.

Echoes runs at the Arcola Theatre until 21 November 2015.

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