Rachel Long, one half of our PR and Marketing team for BROKEN SQUARE, was invited along to TRSE to watch a preview exert of the show! Below she share’s her thoughts and gives you a tantalising view of what’s in store with this amazing production, coming to London soon…!

 Just across the road from the Theatre Royal Stratford East is the new Olympic park. The games are in full swing. There is a carnival atmosphere. The buzz has been almost tangible in London for a fortnight. This is the pulsing nerve centre.  A sea of pink-jacketed volunteers steer a largely red, white and blue crowd through the entrance; the eye of the nucleus.

 This side of the road is green. Nigerian green. The vivid, almost lurid shade bedecks the grand entrance of the Theatre Royal. It is draped proudly from the ceiling. Flags line the corridor walls like bright bunting. Big, bold letters pronounce that Theatre Royal Stratford East’s paint job is to mark its collaboration with New World Nigeria and its celebration of 30 Nigeria House. A traditional African marketplace has popped up beside the busy alfresco bar. Stalls sell rainbow coloured wraps, intricate handicrafts, beads. A familiar smell steams from the adjacent restaurant. Kitchen heat intermingles with the afternoon sun creating a toxic mix, a dizzying nostalgia. Jollof rice, stew, chicken, eba, okra; its seeps in and settles. Home…

 On this side of the road the buzz is tangible. Small jittery groups gather at the threshold of the theatre, some spill out onto the street. Snippets of spoken word are recited, poetry is whispered under breaths, steps are rehearsed-again. The performer’s nerves can be read like a script on each face. We wait. To be entertained? To be inspired? To bear witness to the spilling out of someone else’s soul… We are called inside to take our seats.

 Inside is white, hot, airless. The mirrored wall of the rehearsal room reflects the rawness of creativity. The room is a blank canvas. Lined chairs face a cleared space at the front; the absence of a stage. There is a small table in the aisle between the chairs with a projector on. A simple music system sits on the chair next to the theatre director. That is all: A CD player, a projector, the chairs and the mirror wall, which magnifies the audience so that we appear a larger force, a more intimidating mass; No stage. Someone claps once for attention and the audience hushes. Only the creative energy buzzes with an electric expectation.

 BROKENSQUARE’s preview was scheduled for the second half. The short interval was more like a gasp for air. Just a moment’s respite before being chased again. An exhilarating, heart-drumming quickening of the mind, the spirit, the body. We were not allowed to simply be passive observers. In some acts we were asked to rise. Create a circle, a soul train. In others we were asked to dance, sing, to chant in line with Igbo call-and-response rituals. We weren’t asked to clap, laugh or cheer. Or to feel sad with the tragic tone of an act. Or wish you could ask the singer to repeat the line from the song that seemed as if it was stolen from your diary. That was natural. That, a true artist never has to ask. Each act was a new enlightenment. Each act shrugged off an old stereotype, challenged an old custom, re-wrote tradition and fought with what it meant to be British and Nigerian. ‘Who am I?’ was the subtext, the undercurrent to each performance. Each was its own answer. Each was a way of saying, singing, dancing, showing; “World; I am new Nigeria.”  

 BROKENSQUARE took the centre stage. For a stage had now been created. The talent had demanded it. With a solid platform to stand upon, DK and Linton stood silent and separate. Their dramatic inaction hushed the audience. If there had been lights, they would have been dimmed low; two spotlights would have shone on each of their bowed heads.

 Seven drum beats sound. The dub-tribal music jerks them into action. Linton is JIGI; a fierce, bare-chested personification of Fate. He writhes robotically, organically to the beat of the drums. DK is Janet, in her high heels, her red lipstick, bitter in her unrealized revenge. There is a magnetic space between them. They do not touch, yet, Janet is pulled violently towards JIGI as if attached to him by a taut string. She staggers across the stage. Protesting, angry- at first aloud, and then only with her body; theatre and dance combined. A synchronised and sensuous battle begins. It is a struggle of pride and power. This is Fate over human will. Janet cannot win, we know this instinctively. Though to watch the surrealist dramatization of a situation so familiar makes it all the more obvious that each time we fight a losing battle. Janet, like us, is determined. She is hell-bent on getting her own way this time. She attempts to exit the stage, but is dragged back like a rag doll. Incensed, she tries to hit, spit, curse JIGI. But is she just hitting, spitting, cursing herself? JIGI remains a silent force. Strong and crouched savage-like in wait to block her next wrong move. JIGI is Fate, yet moreso, he is Janet’s personal fate. In his semi-nakedness and his tasselled skirt of scarves that could be made of grass, or silk. He symbolises unrefined truth. He looks like a vengeful voodoo priest, as if he has been carved from an ancient tribe. Does he symbolize Janet’s shunned heritage? Has he come to bequeath her ancestral inheritance? He tightens the strings. Janet is spun, at first gracefully, pirouetting like a ballet dancer, and then faster-faster until her elegant dress billows up, her hair unravels and her bag is flung across the stage. No longer beautiful, poised, proud. Janet has been undone. 

 It is only when the lights go up that you realize it is DK, not Janet, that lays crumpled on the floor, which just moment ago had been the edge of the grand stage. Then I realize that there were no lights to go up. Or down. The audience wait. The drums are still beating, from the little CD player on the chair. They beat seven times more. We wait, transfixed, anticipating another beat. It does not come. We are suspended by the performance, as if on GIJI ‘s strings. Clapping will break the spell, it will signal the end. But we know it is not. We know this is just a short snippet from a whole production. There is more… We do clap though – not because we wish to break the spell, puncture the silence, move on to what we know will be a lesser act. We clap because it isn’t natural, and we would hate these true artists to ever have to ask.

 I leave that hot, white, mirrored room a little tired from my own fight with GIJI. He has stripped me of some of my own vanities, my ignorant preconceptions. I leave feeling a little closer to the strange but familiar home and heritage that I, like Janet, had previously shunned. 

Rachel LONG

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