“The spirits of the dead are always with us.” This mysterious line opens Oval House's Be Good Revolutionaries, the second of their Outlaws series. Or rather, it is my personal opening to the play, one of many scrawled on pieces of paper handed to audience members as they pass through a dark, smoke-filled entrance tunnel. A shaman-like figure (Rebecca Thorn) sits playing a wooden flute, periodically stopping to bestow these snippets. This sets a dark and ominous tone for Dirty Market's story of a family riven by revolution in Cuba.
The corridor opens out to a large set, covered in mulch and surrounded by writhing sheets suspended on clothes lines. A moving lump lies in the middle of the floor and eerie lighting unsettles the viewer from the off. One side of this forest scene opens onto the house of Anna (Juliet Prague) and her three children, Emilia (Laura O'Toole), Red (Francesca Dale) and Curly (Alex Britton). This part of the set (all designed by Christopher Lawley) is packed with personal effects and character, giving the entire space a living feel. With such a large set and so much music and movement, the audience is sometimes distracted from the main focus. This frantic setting however, only contributes to the manic tone of the piece. Overall it is an astonishingly active design, full of surprises and clearly crafted with meticulous detail: the perfect setting for this story of a family holding on to the edges of sanity as a bloody revolution rages around them.
The interior of the house is equally tumultuous. The family look to a future when their revolutionary father will return and their apparent serenity is disrupted by the appearance of an injured soldier (Liam Clarke) and the spirit of Dark (Citlalli Millan), the forgotten fourth child. The raw energy of Britton and O'Toole is remarkable while Dale's adolescent rebelliousness and intensity makes hers the stand-out performance of the night.
Thorn's position as an exorcist and narrator is at first confusing and erring too much on the side of abstraction. This is quickly resolved, however, as her powerful storytelling ensnares and her beautiful voice maintains the tension of the piece throughout.
There are striking physical scenes, shocking tone changes, cacophonies of shouting and deathly silences, all brilliantly controlled by a cast with unwavering commitment. A few fluffed lines and wayward abstractions take some of the shine from this performance but the brilliance of Georgina Sowerby and Jon Lee's direction is undeniable. It is at times comedic, at times terrifying and consistently entertaining. Be Good Revolutionaries packs a visceral punch and demands both attention and respect