Pros: A performance which uses the Arcola’s performance space wonderfully. With a great cast and interesting lighting and choreography
Cons: Some parts of the writing feel overdone, and a few scenes seem needlessly button-pushy
The Arcola theatre is a great little bit of Dalston. It feels very Dalston. I’m certain that I saw people at the bar being served drinks in jars. Like the rest of Dalston, the theatre and Octagon, seemed to take itself very seriously.
The Arcola is a fantastic space though. Three edges of seating come down to meet a floor level stage with an extra nook for performance at the top right. Octagon used the stage space well. The top nook acted as bedrooms for the different characters. The top left stairwell was used for characters to say what was on their minds, alone, or to a camera.
In Octagon’s world a group of talented poets have lost their fourth member. The famed ‘Octagon’ competition is fast approaching. Four hopefuls are trying out to be the newest addition to the group. At first, it feels a bit like a Bring It On clone, albeit in an alternate reality where poets are cool. At one point someone talks about ‘nationals’, but you never quite fall for that. The pieces more outspoken side is plain from the first scene where two lovers are playfully discussing how best to asphyxiate each other.
These more explicit scenes are not the best parts of the play. They feel needless, as if the story is being thrown at you in quite an unsubtle way. It’s a shame because when done differently, the scenes of intimacy (not only sexual) in the bedroom space are powerful. Characters, Tide and Jericho’s scene discussing another character, Prism, and relationships felt more real and less played up.
At first, the three boys left in the group of poets act as the comic relief, but as the story goes on they become more involved and developed; revealing things about themselves to the audience. The bar owner (who, according to the script, is called ‘The Watcher Named Pen’) played a central role; bringing the audience into the production by literally bringing the audience into the production! When the real stage became a fictitious stage for the poetry slams, the real audience also became a fictitious audience for the competitions. We were expected to clap, cheer and stamp our feet along to the performances. And… *drumroll* the poetry was good too! Watching the actors’ impassioned performances was mesmerising. The choreography complimented the ensemble moments and was smart and sensibly stoic.
Unsettling, flashing lights used in between scenes worked well too. It gave off an impression that the slams were subject to a lot of publicity; hinting at the pressure the performers were under. The story, about muddled relationships and the artistic need for freedom, ran smoothly. However, a scene towards the end, which I won’t go into spoiler-detail about, felt like it was romanticising self-harm a little too much.
Over-all the more provocative scenes, and some of the more over the top poetic language, could have been toned down to make the characters more relatable. However, the superb acting, excellent direction and wonderful poetic performances meant I left happy. In particular, Jericho (Crystal Condie) Tide, (Leemore Marrett Jr) and The Watcher Named Pen (Estella Daniels) kept my attention rapt throughout.
Writer: Kristiana Rae Colón
Director: Nadia Latif
Designer: Lorna Ritchie
Composer: Simon Slater
Lighting by: Christopher Nairne
Booking Until: 17th October 2015
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking Link: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/production/arcola/octagon