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Specie, New Diorama Theatre

Joe White
Directed by Josh Roche

Pros: A beautiful piece of theatre. Thoughtful and creatively presented.

Cons: Not enough Shubham Saraf!

Our Verdict: One of the most interesting and original new plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013 – now in London.

Courtesy of Fat Git Theatre

Specie is the latest offering from Fat Git Theatre, a company that aims to challenge contemporary perceptions of ugliness. The show is a meaningful contribution to the debate, full of verve and beautifully delivered. It is easy to see why, following a successful run at the Pleasance Edinburgh, it has transferred to London. The premise is ‘a world of total gender freedom where changing sex is as easy as getting dressed’. New gender-swapping technology creates a world where anything goes, yet something is amiss.

At a ‘New Peoples Anonymous’ meeting, the irritating but well-meaning Mother Gaia obsessive Panda (Isobel Rogers), is spouting motivational jargon and rhetorical questions – just what you’d expect at a group therapy session. ‘We don’t do names, only real selves’ she says to the bemusement of the group, who each hint at some underlying sadness. No sooner does the enigmatic Louie (Shubham Saraf) arrive, does he disappear and we are left wanting to know more of his past and how he ended up at ‘NPA’.

Specie, however, delights in deceit. We are all of a sudden watching Susan (Saskia Marland) and Brian’s (Joe Boylan) first date unfold, a stop-start conversation we are all too familiar with. The pair awkwardly trip over each other’s lines as they accidently reveal too much of themselves, betraying the intended portrayal of their ideal self. Though the cast is without a doubt strong across the board with Davis and Marland excelling in a number of roles, it is Boylan’s performance, laced with careful nuances and multiple intricacies, that really stands out. It soon becomes apparent that there are few corners of life that this new gender treatment hasn’t affected. With so many ‘new people’, the line between male and female has become muddled.

A series of mini-lectures gives the audience a welcome picture of the new world and more specifically, the far-reaching effects of the drug. Harmless at first, ‘men discovered breasts aren’t that brilliant and women sat on their balls’, though it soon leaves society marooned by its own freedom. It is easy to follow and succeeds in giving the audience a more holistic understanding of a world comprised mainly of ‘new people’.

The brilliance of White’s latest play is found in his constant yet concealed probing. He pushes and pokes the audience to reflect on the significance of gender identity, never coming close to labouring the point. Suppose men are said to have the best chance in life versus women, would you consider your daughter becoming a son? Would you consider Lucy becoming Louie?

Seemingly inconsequential scenes are tied together by one common factor, the illusive Louie. Saraf’s performance is exceptional and full of feeling. He plays Louie, and Lucy, with a calm knowing, a glimmer in his eye. Perhaps a criticism is that the audience might have liked to have learnt more of his internal struggles, though more likely, simply want more of Saraf.

Director Josh Roche has put together a show that mirrors the scripts’ ambiguity and distortion with style. Two sullen, anonymous and completely disengaged musicians (Tony Boardman and Keiran Lucas) roam freely from scene to scene, offering a ‘funk-based’ sound. They become somewhat of a nuisance for the other characters and when confronted, their obnoxious persona humorously dissolves into shy embarrassment at their being there. It is exactly this mysteriousness that makes this a special play. Roche has also, quite possibly, put together the most feel-good ending to a play in history. Though, like most things in Specie, there is a twist.

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

Specie runs at New Diorama Theatre until 31st August 2013.
Box Office: 0207 383 9034 or book online at http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/specie.

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