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What I Really Wanted To Say Was...
Etcetera Theatre
14th August 2017

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for What I Really Wanted To Say Was...

Photography provided by Shtoom Productions

Rosie Jane is black, female and bisexual. Nyke Jackson is mixed race and has ADHD. Lance Jeffery is white and has dyslexia. That summary is very to the point and lacks the usual social graces, however this is how all three performers choose to define theselves and what make them unique before launching into the story arc of What I Really Wanted To Say Was... Having come together to create the show whilst at drama school, they reveal that the inspiration behind this piece on equality came from having 50% of their intake's black students in their little trio.

Their story is set in an advertising agency where a new joiner, Orin, fights in vain to gain the approval of his horrible boss, the aptly named Mr Bellowman. By taking it in turns to play Orin and all bringing a different angle to their portrayal of this character based on their own experiences and traits, the trio highlight that discrimination can affect people in the workplace for very different and yet equally unacceptable reasons. Whether it's on the basis of gender, race, disability or even all three, it doesn't hurt any less to find yourself treated as an inferior. Showing this frustration through the eyes of one "joint" protagonist rather than creating three different roles feels more hard-hitting somehow. Orin could be anyone.

The company attempt to be deliberately provocative, making Mr Bellowman as outrageous as possible. When Jeffery first takes on the role, he casually uses some particularly offensive words to describe Jane. Although some humour is derived from how ridiculous this is, with Mr Bellowman minimising his behaviour by describing it as banter, trying to shock an audience in Camden is a veritable challenge. They note the language, they disapprove of it, but they don't get upset, having heard it all before. What does get more of a reaction is Jackson pushing Jane down in an awkward position and then the action continuing between Jackson and Jeffery, with Jane almost becoming furniture in the background, completely dehumanised.

The exaggerated comedy villain of a boss is made to act so hatefully that each incarnation of Orin must eventually explode and tell us what he or she really wanted to say and yet didn't. However, we never explore what would have actually happened if Orin had spoken up. This leaves us with a troubling feeling of impotence - we understand that Orin has been wronged, but nothing is done to remedy this or prevent it from happening again. What I Really Wanted To Say Was... is not the powerful call to arms or educational message we expect from its opening. Instead, it's a devised piece that tells us discrimination is bad. Given the audience already agree with this, it's unclear what the company are trying to do. There's an idea in here - it just isn't fully developed.

It's not enough to just stand up and proudly declare that you tick all of the diversity boxes; Shtoom Productions need to go further and explain why they feel this is relevant to their art and deliver a stronger message. It's easy to speak out against inequality and declare it a bad thing; what is far harder is explaining the consequences of discrimination and suggesting how to tackle it. There are clearly some interesting ideas being parried back and forth by the members of this new company and they have a natural rapport. They simply they need more focus.

What I Really Wanted To Say Was... ran on 14th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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