Review: We Dig

3 star rating
A piercing and funny devised piece set in the striking surroundings of a demolition site - at times emotionally charged and visually spectacular, but sometimes puzzling.
We Dig at Ovalhouse

Image courtesy Emma Frankland and Company


Theatre: Ovalhouse

Closes here: Saturday 19 October 2019

Author:
Created by Emma Frankland and Company

Cast:

Emma Frankland

Travis Alabanza

Morgan M. Page

Gein Wong

Tamarra


Synopsis


An exhilarating new theatre project led by Emma Frankland, alongside very special guests.


Built from conversations with trans women and trans feminine people around the world, particularly the UK, Indonesia, Canada and Brazil, We Dig centres around the actual excavation of a giant hole - a literal representation of a queer community needing to bury itself for protection.


Live, direct and set to smash, rather than just break the mould, We Dig sees Emma and guests taking complete control as they dig deep into the historic Ovalhouse building to initiate our final season.


We Dig focuses on trans artists, communicating elements of their global situation, particularly targeting the needs of women and girls.


A collaborative devised process with other trans artists, including One From the Vaults host Morgan M Page and Indonesian celebrity and performance artist Tamara Pertamina.


We Dig will feature an innovative and exciting trans artist as the guest performer each night.


ActDrop reviews


Eugenia Ziranova

Performance date: Monday 7 October 2019
Review star rating image

Whoa ... this is what's called 'site' specific performance!


Ovalhouse moves to Brixton next spring, and for the last season in the Oval they have commissioned pieces that involve demolition of their old building.


And Emma Frankland seizes all the creative opportunities that demolition generously supplies.


Bricks are flying in the air, a jackhammer rattles, dust floats, four elements (air, earth, fire, water) come together in a confessional show about life, hopes, pains and fears of trans women and trans feminine people.


The auditorium is unscathed in the stalls, but in the place of the stage there is a literal hole, dug by the performers.


The hole is surrounded by scaffolding, planks, railings and other builders' paraphernalia like wheelbarrow, spades and buckets.


I can only imagine the fun designer E. Mallin Parry had in this ex-stage space.


We Dig is a collaborative devised piece, naturally devoid of a lead character, or plot, or much dialogue.


However, it develops themes and ideas, contrast of moods, and mature compositional drive through the arrangement of monologues, physical theatre and dance sections.


After a short introduction from Emma, the rest of the young and energetic cast (Travis Alabanza, Morgan M Page, Gein Wong and Tamarra) appear with a dance to - of course - Satisfaction by Benny Benassi.


Then the actual digging takes place - proper work without many words.


Various random objects emerge from the sandy soil, igniting some improv.

Cast of We Dig at Ovalhouse

(From left) Tamarra, Morgan M Page, Gein Wong, Travis Alabanza, Emma Frankland - Photo by Rosie Powell


During the snack break every character/ performer reveals their gentle side in a conversation about goals and dreams.


And those dreams are often about safety.


Safety for self, safety for others, safety from micro and macro-aggressions and emotional or physical safety.


Returning to more digging, with higher gearing, the ensemble turned to ecological matters.


But here I got rather lost in the metaphor game.


Until then everything had been pretty clear: digging under the ground represented a search for safety for the queer community; demolition of the building was rhyming with abandonment of prescribed gender; grave -> symbolical death -> rebirth; sexy builders were rebuilding themselves (new masons?), and even protection glasses and earplugs, handed over to the audience, were fitting into the 'safety' theme.


But I couldn't understand how over-exploitation of Mother Earth from human gluttony managed to make it to the table.


"The need to return to simple, natural living" is a Georgian era narrative, but what does it have to do with a trans woman's agenda?


My best guess is that it means acceptance of one's natural self and rejection of the race for overstretched body modifications.


It might have been some internal reference for the trans community, but it left me puzzled.


The next theme explored was history.


Ovalhouse stands in Lambeth, the borough of London with the highest share of the LGBTQ+ population, and has hosted queer shows for a good fifty years.


But Morgan M Page digs deeper to antique times in her quest for help.


The show then returned to the topic of dreams and hopes with the most emotionally charged and visually spectacular section.


And the evening ended with surprise guest, La John Joseph, who brought quite a stark contrast to the dirty and sweaty five, not only with her immaculate look, but also with a succinct, polished and cutting speech on the lines of "I have a dream".


Of course, about safety.



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