“Just because you appear to have secrets don’t mean your secrets are all that interestin’.”
Belongings was the most intense, interesting and emotional theatre production I have ever seen – and I’ve seen a few as I do enjoy going to the theatre. I cannot find the words to express how much of a revelation it was that we enjoyed this play so immensely – we spent the whole of our 2 mile walk the next day discussing the merits of the performance!
Written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm the story is about young soldier Deb (Joanna Horton) returning from home from Afghanistan. But home is not what it used to be, her mom is gone, her old friend and one-time lover Jo (Kirsty Bushell) now lives with her Dad, Jim (Ian Bailey). Having battled to ‘prove’ herself worthy in the army and being betrayed by her closest ally out there ‘Sarko’ (Calum Callaghan), Deb is struggling to understand where she belongs and who she can turn to for comfort…
The Hampstead theatre production of Belongings was shown at the Trafalgar Studios, London. The theatre was small, so you really felt you were ‘in’ on the action, with just 3-4 rows of seats around the stage floor, the front row had to be mostly kept clear or theatre-goers would have been ‘in’ the action! It was such a small space that you actually felt you could’ve been sat at the table with them, it was almost voyeuristic. We attended on the final night of the show, and were glad to have had the opportunity to witness such a moving performance. The set was awesome, deceptively simple, with transitions between the kitchentte of home and the army barracks bought to life by simple lighting effects. It complemented the play and acting so much better than having the actors hiding behind some massive showy ‘west-end’ set. The characters are all very believable, the men are portrayed as negative examples, they are very true to life (not all men are like these but there are plenty of them!) and the women are equally not the most positive role models, but again this adds to the realism. The acting was brilliant, very natural. From the moment Deb enters the stage she does not leave again until the end of the show, the other three characters joining her as their parts are played out.
There were some wickedly comedic moments in the earlier parts of the play, but as the story went on it became more dark and sinister, comedy being replaced by deep, emotional revelations. This was a show that could reach everyone’s life in some way, touching on so many personal elements as it explored issues from mental health to family relationships, sexuality and abuse, to separation anxieties and women’s roles. Although it was a little predictable ( I knew what would occur between Deb and Sarko from their first scene together) this did not detract from the powerful, portrayal of one woman’s struggle for her identity and the heavy influence that minimal people can have on how we relate to the world.
*Spoiler alert* the rest of this review details what happens in the play, and whilst it has come to the end of its run at Trafalgar studios, should it get a run elsewhere and you are reading before going to see it and don’t want to know what happens then stop reading now! 🙂
The show opens with Deb walking into her family home to be greeted by her dad wandering around the kitchen naked looking for cigarettes. As the story develops we discover that Jim has a website related to home-made pornography and that Jo has been an unwitting star in the filming of a video for the site. All the while we get flashbacks to Deb’s time in Afghanistan and her developing friendship with Sarko, her roommate and confidante who seems disbelieving of her sexuality choice (Deb is a lesbian). The complications in the family relationships becomes intense as discussions about Deb’s mom, who has vanished after suffering mental health problems, Deb and Jo’s friendship and relationship and Deb’s relationship with her dad all come under the spotlight. Jo seems ‘content’ to settle for what she has with Deb’s dad, whilst still harbouring a longing for ‘more’ with Deb, which she almost ‘teases’ Deb with flirting with her then backing off. Meanwhile back in Afghanistan sexual frustration is beginning to get to Sarko, but Deb barely notices as she struggles with her own demons – worrying about her mom, and trying to ‘fit in’ to a ‘man’s world’. Things come to a head when Sarko rapes Deb. Back home deb realises her dad’s opinion of women is the same as Sarko’s as he refers to what he does online as ‘nature’ and to her mom as a ‘waster’ and ‘what’s the point in havin’ a wife if you can’t have it on tap when you want it?’ . Then Deb reveals her secret to Jo rather than comfort or sympathy she gets a ‘well get used to it’ kind of attitude from the woman she loves who is accepting her own exploitation as she pretends it ‘normal’, its ‘ok’…
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