Paul T Davies reviews Misfits – four stories written by four playwrights presented as part of The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch’s Essex On Stage Season.
Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Streamed Online until 22 November 2020
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Developed as part of the theatre’s Essex On Stage season, Misfits comprises four stories, written by four separate playwrights, weaved together to create a piece that distils the nature of Essex people. It’s a county that has suffered a great deal of negative stereotyping, not helped by a certain “reality” TV series, but here the writers and performers get to the heart and humanity of Essex lives. Their stories are distinct to the region, yet universal, and performed by a hugely energetic and talented cast that take us completely into their worlds. Although separate, there are echoes in each story, with music often the trigger to ignite memories.
In Sadie Hassler’s Everybody Get’s Born, Daisy is about to give birth, and she finds herself on the verge of history repeating itself. As she goes back to 1978 when her mum is in a rock band, her upbringing is recalled in vivid colours, she never noticed they were poor because the love of her single mum was so strong. Now she herself is on the verge of single motherhood, and Gemma Salter’s beautiful performance takes us from the panic of birth, the need for her Mum, and, above all, the love that family have. Fiza, the titular character in Guleraana Mir’s piece, is back home with her parents under dire circumstances. As she opens a box, her past is handed up to her and she recounts her youth clubbing in hallowed Essex nightspots. Avoiding the upcoming school reunion, clearly arranged by someone who has had a successful life, she begins to dig deep and accept her past in a piece that, like all the writing, rings with authenticity.
In Kenny Emson’s superb Never Never Land, we meet Richard in Manchester, the former Essex Boy Racer known as Tag, who through the jukebox, is raced back through his memories to his last night out with the lads in 1998, the one before he leaves to go to University. There is an empty seat in the car that no one sits in, it is a memorial to a lost friend, and this last night thrums with challenges. An excellent performance by Thomas Coombes strips away Tag’s defences as he realises that you never really leave Home, and Emson, as always, creates poetry and love out of dual carriageways and petrol stations. My personal favourite, however, is The Essex Princess, written and performed by Anne Odeke, an imagined account of the little-known black winner of Miss Southend 1908. It is hilarious, fierce, and recounts the mainly unrecorded history of black women in Essex, a joyous, powerful piece. It must have been strange for the actors to perform to an empty auditorium, but their energy crackles along the two metres distance, and they perform as if it’s a full house.
It’s a tribute to co-directors Douglas Rintoul and Emma Baggott that the transitions work seamlessly as we move between each story, to create a play about family, love, exile, and, above all, identity. It’s also a tribute to the Queen’s Theatre that a first-time commission from Odeke can stand alongside award-winning playwrights so confidentially. With a gentle swipe towards the “countryfied” area of North Essex, (which includes Colchester), the play celebrates its regionality with a swagger, one that sometimes falters when life knocks them back, but one that always brims with pride. Well done to the entire team for creating such strong live streaming.