29th October, 2019
‘It’s not all brutality here. There’s some tenderness’
Winsome Pinnock’s 2005 play has been revived in a co-production by Graeae and Theatre Royal, Plymouth, now touring the UK. When a young man jumps in front of a tube train, the impact is far-reaching, bringing people together to search for meaning. There is a dual time strand in One Under, showing the days leading up to Sonny’s death as well as the weeks following, leaving us with different perspectives and the gaps in between to fill.
Pinnock’s play is subtle, even if at times it feels slight. It starts with a suicide at an Underground station, something which puts a halt to the everyday rush and routine of London life and starts the introspecting of what brings someone to that point. What could have been done differently? How could you have helped? Were there any signs? A few days before, we see this man walk into a laundrette and ask the woman behind the counter on a date. This whirlwind connection remains fascinatingly opaque, especially as to the reason why how he showers her with money and luxuries. At the same time, we hear glimpses of a supposed gang he’s running from, but again, whether that’s true or not and what the exact details are elude us.
These scenes interweave with scenes after his death. Cyrus (Stanley J Browne), the driver of the train that hit him, has befriended Sonny’s adopted mum, Nella (Shenagh Govan). It is a genuine and interesting friendship which sees him doing her garden and her make him soup, but there’s also ulterior motives at play. Cyrus is convinced he’s Sonny’s birth father and so sets out to solve the riddle of why he jumped. Did he fall? Was he pushed? Is there a note? Likewise, she knows Cyrus is the train driver but seeks comfort from his connection.
Amit Sharma’s revival feels fresh and is performed with conviction by a cast committed to the story. They sit round the stage when not in a scene, an awareness that they are all playing a part in a bigger story. Reece Pantry conveys Sonny with all the breeziness of a young man enjoying life, hiding the struggles underneath. Govan is very compelling as Nell, the loving mum still coming to terms with Sonny’s death. This is the first Graeae production I’ve seen, a company which commits to the creative integration of sign language, captioning and audio description in its productions. Before the play, train station platform screens warn that a train is approaching, but they seamlessly transition to show Pinnock’s text as captions when the play begins.
But two things really stand out in Pinnock’s play. Firstly (and most optimistically), despite London being repeatedly referred to as a harsh city, kindness is mostly what’s on display. And more disquietingly, that a person’s mental health issues can hide deep under the surface.
One Under plays at Curve until 30th October as part of a UK tour. It plays at the Arcola Theatre from 10th-21st December. For more information visit https://graeae.org/our-work/one-under/
|Stanley J Browne and Shenagh Govan in One Under. Credit: Patrick Baldwin|