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Unbroken Line, Ovalhouse Theatre

Jamie Zubairi
Directed by Kath Burlinson

Pros: A fantastic and engaging one-man performance, funny and poignant.

Cons: Some higher stakes would have really sealed the deal for this piece. The incorporation of visual art into the performance was perhaps overstated somewhat.

Our Verdict: An entertaining and thoughtful exploration of personal and artistic identity.

Courtesy of the Ovalhouse

Jamie Zubairi is a writer, painter, actor, and dancer, and in the Ovalhouse Theatre’s current upstairs production, Unbroken Line, he showcases all of his skills and passions, along with his own personal culture. The sole performer, Zubairi tackles multiple characters with finesse and believability. He is at once a spirit trapped within a painting, an Irish artist, and a displaced and dissatisfied Malaysian accountant.

The script holds strong echoes of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though it’s nothing to do with Christmas, so, refreshingly, it doesn’t capitalise on the season. Rather, it is the story of a lonely man who is shown the light by one supernatural night populated by journeys and ghosts. Zubairi’s protagonist is taken on a journey through space and time to arrive at eventual self-awareness with a greater understanding of himself as both a human being and as a member of diverse communities and cultures.

Zubairi, who writes and performs his piece directed by Kath Burlinson and choreographed by Ni Madé Pujawati, engages with different art forms throughout: dance, puppetry, acting, and painting. Each is a welcome and well-incorporated element of the story, so it never feels like Zubairi is putting on a show, or trying to be flashy. Instead, it’s clear that he and his team have worked hard to weave many methods of communication into the piece in order to create a unique and exciting story and experience. The mixed-media approach is utilized extremely well here, but one complaint might be that although Zubairi’s website proves he’s a decent painter, and his characters within the play are meant to be talented, the painting aspect of the piece doesn’t really shine how it could, or should. Of course it’s difficult to create a good painting in a short amount of time while also giving your focus to acting, dancing, and puppetry, but in the moments when Zubairi turns to painting, one would hope that the results would be as striking and interesting as the rest of his work throughout the play. In reality, the formless squiggles of color he smacks on the canvas make it difficult to believe the Irish Joe is a well-to-do professional painter.

Another slight improvement might have been made in raising the stakes; Zubairi’s protagonist is dissatisfied with his isolated life in London, but there is nothing serious to prompt an audience to want to see him or his life change – the idea that this must happen is forced upon us a bit as it happens. We see his adjustments and realisations and think, “Oh, yes, I suppose that’s good” instead of experiencing any real catharsis. Because he is so immediately likable, we don’t have the same experience we have with Ebenezer Scrooge, whose nastiness makes us long for reckoning and redemption. In the case of Unbroken Line, we watch a nice, shy guy become a little less shy and quite a bit less lonely – but the conclusion, though nice and sweet, lacks strength and real payoff.

The complaints are, in the end, minor, since Zubairi’s voice and performance are utterly captivating. He’s a strong communicator and talented artist on multiple levels, and it’s worth spending an hour with him at the Ovalhouse this week.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!

Unbroken Line runs at the Ovalhouse until 15th December 2012.
Box Office: 020 7582 7680 or book online at http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/UnbrokenLine

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