Anguis is difficult to get your head around. Sheila Atim’s first foray into playwriting consists of a desert-island-discs-type radio show/podcast, conducted with Cleopatra (Paksie Vernon). Except, in this version, the songs are sung by ‘Cleo’ herself and the interviewer, Dr Kate Williams (Janet Kumah), has a dramatic storyline of her own. Brilliant acting and beautiful songs (also written by Atim) make the show enjoyable, despite the confusing storyline.
The set design and costuming for Anguis is nicely done. A sand-coloured recording studio allows for full immersion into the scene and a cleverly placed little window allows the radio producer, David (Peter Losasso), to be involved. Use of lighting and sound is masterful, slowly dropping tension into the audience’s consciousness to bring the show to its climax. The progressive introduction of dappled lighting and blurred dialogue slowly hint at Dr Williams’ personal issues, which snap away as she comes back to the room. These elements cleverly amalgamate into a total submersion into her subconscious, as the full explanation of her demons comes to pass. Meanwhile, original songs, also written by Atim, give more of an insight into Cleo’s life and feelings. Beautifully and soulfully sung by Vernon, these musical pieces form welcome interludes in the show.
As Cleo and Dr Williams get into the interview, disputing common myths surrounding Cleo’s life and death, differences in their ethical approaches and belief systems become obvious. Dr Williams’ own storyline develops, leading to her distraction from and bitter fighting with Cleo. Strong monologues and emotional stand-offs swiftly follow. Vernon and Kumah perform their roles with conviction, playing off the jarring themes of the script with passion and belief. Both manage to play powerful women while simultaneously allowing the vulnerability that is key to the story. Meanwhile, Losasso plays the easy-going (but surprisingly insightful) David with ease, providing a vital relief to the drama of the main performances.
In truth, Anguis could be divided into two shows of their own. A show that explored the life of Cleopatra through the format of a modern radio show/podcast would have been interesting enough. Similarly, delving into the life of a troubled doctor, with key themes of race and misinformation, would form a good 60-minute show. Cobbling the two together, however, makes for a confused storyline that whiplashes between the two female leads. Overall, though, Anguis is an enjoyable show, if a bit of a head-scratcher.
Anguis is on at Gilded Balloon Teviot – Dining Room
At 15:00 until 26th August
Book tickets here
Image: Avalon Press