Long strips of material hang down from the ceiling of HOME’s studio theatre and a circular sand pit fills the centre of the stage. As the audience come in, Nicola Blackwell, one of the two performers in Joe W’s On the Outskirts of a Large Event collapses onto a chair and twitches occasionally.
We slowly learn that this injured and deformed character is Lucien, and there is an iceberg heading towards him and his island as a result of global warming. Lucien has suffered from complete memory loss, so relies on Rose Gray’s pyjama-clad character to tell him who he is.
It is up for interpretation as to who exactly Gray’s character is. I personally took her to be a projection of Lucien’s mind. Gray informs him that he was once so famous he required a chauffeur who drove a bullet-proof car, which only feeds Lucien’s ego.
The audience is spoon-fed information by Gray, who gives detail about who Lucien was in long, wordy paragraphs. Therefore, in order to understand the play, you had to pay close attention to the chunky text, and I was unfortunately not engaged enough to do so.
Through an extended metaphor, it transpires that Lucien was a politician who thrived off the power and fame that came with his job. He ostracised immigrants — who are referred to as ‘insomniacs’ — while the rest of the population — ‘sleepwalkers’ — let them go screaming into a sort of exile.
Gray’s character helps Lucien to realise the error of his ways, but I did not feel involved enough to care.
It was a technically interesting play, Will Monks’ vivid and colourful projections onto the hanging strips of material combined with the thorough and immersive sound design by Lee Affen helped to locate the piece. However, I perhaps would have liked to see the two performers using the space more rather than statically telling a story as I felt the set, sound, and lights had more to offer.
I can see that the intention of On the Outskirts was to make the audience reflect on world events without directly referencing the migrant crisis. For me, however, the metaphor was a little heavy-handed, and it came to fruition too late on in the play.