I think I was one of only two black people in the audience for, My One True Friend showing at the Tristan Bates Theatre.
There is nothing worse than a story about, or including, black people and our history, told from a white person’s perspective (with Lord knows how much or little input from any black people behind the scenes).
The play was 70 mins long, which was 60 mins too long. The only ten minutes of worth was the cumulative moment when Mensah Bediako (Eastenders, In the Long Run) was on stage. He was the only entirely believable character on that stage as the long-suffering servant and grandfather, ‘Kapenie‘ who has faith that love can conquer all, including racial hatred. Even when he was silent, he said so much that I found my eyes were drawn to what he was doing as it was the only thing of truth on that stage apart from the props.
My One True Friend is meant to be one of race and reconciliation in the Rhodesia of the late 70s but honestly, each character seemed to be trying too hard for a different theme that one barely gets to really feel anything about the main themes of the “play“. The writing is clunky and tedious leaving you wondering if the writer was trying to create a farce or Chekhov. Either way, the delivery doesn’t get across one or the other.
The conversations in each scene had a tendency to be extremely cyclical, repeating the same thing over and over. Half the dialogue and words could have been cut and we’d still have the same story and dramatic flow. The need to prove intelligence resulted in extremely heavy-handed and ostentatious dialogue. Sometimes storytelling, especially about such potentially beautiful subject matter, should be simply told because the weight of the story is heavy enough.
Save Bediako, the overarching characteristics of each actor felt wrong as the characters all seemed very one dimensional without much of a journey. Theo Bamber’s ‘Gordon‘, for example, was meant to be the tour de force of laughs but barely got any titters at all. There was a point where I was about to get up and leave because of how many times he said “armageddon“. The rest of the characters continued this streak of pain, in different ways. Some seemed to think that they only had two positions on stage, either dead centre looking out to the public but not really having any motivation for speaking from this point, or back in one location on the stage. It begs the question, did they discuss any motivations with their director, Antony Law. I wondered if Law being white had any impact…
The use of props and lighting was excessive. I can only assume to cover up the staleness of the play. There were some lighting cues that felt like mental masturbation, spotlighting Suzanna Hamilton’s ‘Lady L’ during a gratuitous soliloquy in the middle of a running scene that I literally thought was my brain making a further joke, but, no; they really thought it was worth doing.
The last scene came close to being beautiful. It first started with more of a “let’s highlight our lead actress” but in a way void of logic. Hamilton (McCallum, Tess, Swallows and Amazons) comes in woeing about the worst day of her life, but heaven knows where her motivation to open her mouth and speak about it came from seeing as she is alone on stage. Hamlet had a need to speak his lines, Lady L did not. As a widow, meant to love her late husband enough that her daughter thinks accidentally breaking his pot of ashes is enough to cross her out of the will, at no point, save once, lightly, is this “love” used to help give the character more depth. Thankfully there was an exchange between Lady L and Bediako which helped, like aspirin for a migraine. It sadly wasn’t enough though.
My One True Friend runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 14th September 2019. Find out more and book tickets here.