Diving straight into the story of Tom and Amber, Actually speaks very much of the current climate in universities across the globe. Although a very American setting this discussion of accusations of sexual assault within a place of learning is a deep vein that the play mines carefully.
Setting aside the obvious drama of accusation, trial, shame and resentment Actually goes deeper into the issue. Looking at race, privilege and personal history, it asks how seemingly good, clever people can misunderstand both themselves and others. Making sure not to demonize or oversimplify the issue this moral and intellectual quagmire sucks you into its depths.
Although the writing sings with its fast-paced and image-filled metaphors there are points where the themes do get rather lost in the flowery language. The characters intentions can at times feel a little overworked by the script. By the same token, Cindy Lin’s set, although very pretty, doesn’t seem to interact with the action. The concrete blocks seem to leave the actors unsupported and unconnected to what’s happening around them.
Performance-wise the pressure is on both Yasmin Paige and Simon Manyonda as Amber and Tom. Sharing the narration of the night, then diving off into monologues with moments of dialogue between them, this is a solitary view of a shared act, which itself is interesting. Oscar Toeman’s direction leaves them alone in almost every sense of the word and this space allows the performances to speak for themselves. Toeman’s attention to detail creates some lovely symbolic moments. Paige’s neurotic, critical portrayal of Amber is detailed and the progression from awkwardness to open denouement of the night in question is a well-crafted arch. Manyonda breathes a roughish likeability into a role that could easily come across as brash and arrogant. As he takes the brunt of the accusations its doubly hard to find the warmth in the character, yet he does this very well.
Actually asks difficult questions about the idea of consent, the pressures the world puts on its youth and the idea of being a “good person”. These questions are asked in relativite simplicity. Like a planet and a comet orbiting each other in a vacuum these two uniquely damaged individuals grapple, rotate and smash into one another. As they do we, the audience, are drawn into the heartbreaking collision. And much like with celestial movements the meaning is left for us to interpret.
Author: Anna Ziegler
Director: Oscar Toeman
Producer: Announcement Productions
Box Office: 0844 871 7632
Booking Link: https://trafalgarentertainment.com/shows/actually/
Booking Until: 31 August 2019