Last Saturday I made my way to Battersea to visit Theatre 503, above the Latchmere pub. It is a cosy space with comfortable sofas and light coloured wooden floors. The play being presented was Occupied by Carla Grauls and was part of Labfest 2012, a festival of fresh and bold new plays.
As the audience walked into the theatre, Rosie Hilal and her two/three co-actors (an excellent Mark Conway and Luke Waldock) were already on the stage in their respective roles, playing the accordion, sitting on a loo or lying on the floor, tied up. The fourth person (Tanya Munday), who we don’t see until later in the play as she emerges from a mountain of cut up newspapers, is an old ghost-like woman who only murmurs and is clearly deranged from being homeless for so long. The stage looked very messy, with newspaper cut outs hanging everywhere and flying around, a lot of litter, buckets and card board boxes. The story tells of two (or three) immigrants from Eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria and Poland) who have come to the UK for a better life, a fresh start, and are occupying a public toilet. They have taken a British young man prisoner, in order to learn from him “how to be British”.
The reason I heard of this performance was because I am interested in seeing more of Rosie Hilal’s work, who I saw at RADA back in February and who I can imagine seeing in all kinds of roles. I am currently intrigued by what makes an actor “more unique than the others”, and she is an actor who I think fits that category (in Occupied, she showed agelessness and vulnerability). At the same time, I am aware that different individuals will find different people “more unique than others”, and that is what is so threatening in the world of acting.
The play is not only about identity and stereotypes in the classic sense. We are meeting four people who have their history, pain, fear, and strong desires. Only later do we learn who fights hard enough to fulfill these desires, and who is in greater pain than the others. What I enjoyed was that the audience needs to think and speculate a lot about the characters, as they are never completely revealed. What they do learn is that the older people get, the more baggage they carry with them. The more baggage, the more memories and doubts.
I woke up the next morning thinking that the old lady is the Romanian’s mother’s ghost (my question: do the other characters see the old woman?). Unfortunately, I will never know, as I would need to read the text again to find out.