Where Woz Loz?
The Ovalhouse Downstairs, London
Woz Loz Loving it?
This event came after a 20-minute break in the Ovalhouse cafe, having just experienced Round the House. My overall advice would be that 33% London are certainly a company you need to get yourself to see – get yourself a ticket to The Grandfathers, but maybe don’t bother with the less relevant site-specific stuff beforehand.
“I know that these days I’m part of something bigger than myself...and I’m proud of that. I’m immensely proud of that.”
The Ovalhouse Downstairs is a black-box space: end-on, but still intimate. Upon entry the nine actors are stood to attention in the space, and they will remain onstage throughout. They all wear matching khaki combat trousers, t-shirts and black combat boots. Across the upstage side of the square space is a low wall of sandbags, and atmospheric music plays: the mood is totally set.
The opening scene is chronologically the penultimate, and we find the explanations for the incoherent, dying screams of a young man throughout the rest of the action. This set up is simple, but the script and, most notably, the acting heighten it to an incredible standard.
We see the 8 comrades (both male and female) taken through intense military training by their unforgiving coach. This scene, set to music, perhaps drags on a little and the actors’ placement in the space could be tightened. Their struggle is frequently interspersed with well-placed humour, so that despite the fact that not much happens in the first half of the play, we are totally engrossed because we know the characters: we see their fears, their camaraderie, their disagreements. We become part of the group.
Whilst each actor deserves note, a particularly poignant moment is when actress Melissa Barnes expresses her fears about their deployment to the barracks at night. Whilst the sequence begins comically, with her unsympathetic comrades trying to shut her up and get to sleep, she eventually engages their attention and commands the stage in a very still scene. Unfortunately her position laying far down stage meant I had to strain to see her, but she was extremely moving none the less.
This one hour piece deserves a bigger production. Minor details could be tightened to make it spectacular, but the brilliance in The Grandfathers lies in its simplicity: something that is often undervalued; a stirring and emotive performance by all, and a wonderful showcase and introduction to 33% London’s work.