Outlier: lively, loud and over long – a grungy story of drug abuse that destroys young lives
With a stage draped with oriental rugs, party lanterns hanging above, and a cosy Central Perk Café feel to Rebecca Wood’s set, Malaika Kegode’s Outlier couldn’t have been further from its inappropriate boho setting. A bleak and gritty coming of age morality tale with the message that drugs screw you up and kill you was at the heart of her personal story.
Set in Devon Malaika takes the audience through her journey from geeky teen to redemptive adult as she flits from party to crack house and from abusive relationship to drug induced death in a universal story of unfulfilled young lives. Her glib teenage cliché ridden put downs of Devon towns and people add to the hormonal driven anger at an adult world we are all at one time are on the cusp of and cannot yet control. No matter how loyal she remained to her lover Oscar, her friend Lewis and a circle of friends it was hard to find sympathy with a group of teens who cared nothing for their communities and families but to find oblivion in a bottle, powder or a pill.
Living up to its billing of gig-theatre the Bristol band Jakobol supported Malaika’s prose poetry with a series of heavy rock instrumentals and more evocative and spiritual pieces using the harp played beautifully by Emma Broughton. Joe Williams on guitar, Marietta Kirkbride on violin and Owen Gatley on drums completed the musical ensemble – although the musicians all briefly gave voice to Malaika’s friends.
Excellent lighting by Joe Price and animation by Christopher Harrison lifted the production in the Bristol Old Vic’s main house that had been rearranged to allow Malaika to step down into part of the pit cleared of seating in a covid secure setting.
Directed by Jenny Davies this was a lively, loud and rather over long production that lacked a more nuanced narrative thread, with too much musical padding and tiresome rock guitar riffs. The one thing missing was a vocalist to bring some of Malaika’s words to life and to add variety to what at times felt monotonous for a two-hour long show.
Gig-theatre by its nature requires audiences to be up for a show – and many in the theatre were clearly fans of the poet and band – responding loudly to her asides and the music. At once artificial but also adding something of the atmosphere of a live concert – but without the concert.
Her strongest sequences of confessional story telling came as she described the death and funeral of friends, and her engaging jokey introduction to the evening. And there was humour within the bleak story as Malaika described the joy of shopping in Wilkos (Wilkinson) with its cheap household goods and also of her own back problems caused by turning around in rehearsals.
A more condensed production in an intimate venue and appropriately grungy set would better do justice to Malaika’s words and would be ideal to tour six-forms and colleges with its strong messages about addiction. At times moving, at times beautifully descriptive, at times funny, but as a piece of theatre it needed a tighter structure to keep a wider audience enthralled.
The play runs to Saturday, 26th June, 2021.
Details of the play at https://bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/outlier
Harry Mottram is the news editor of Bath Voice monthly magazine covers news, views, reviews, previews and features as well as what’s on in Bath and events for residents in Bear Flat, Widcombe and Oldfield Park and the wider Bath area. Delivered door to door in south Bath and available in shops and supermarkets. See the Facebook site for details.
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