Sarah Solemani, author of the NYT’s double bill,
Eye/Balls, is a master of contradiction. Not however in the
tongue-in-cheek style of Oscar Wilde, but rather in the manner of a frustrated
idealist who has something to say but isn't quite sure what that thing
In this production, directed by Gbolahan Obisesan,
the subject matter of the author’s soapbox soliloquies include: the
exploitation of women; New Labour; the costs of higher education; youth pregnancy; the
banking industry; recession; capitalism; sexism; feminism; evangelism; and
communism. With two and a half hours in which to haemorrhage social statements,
no topic is left untouched.
Eye follows the story of Diana, a
single mother and student lured into the harem of a university tutor by the
promise of his help in paying her tuition fees. She eventually escapes this
unfortunate situation and disappears without trace, prompting a member of the
local branch of the Salvation Army to try to track her down.
Balls, the second play in the
double bill, is set some time after the events in Eye and
has at its heart the story of a stag-do gone wrong. What begins as a bit of fun
for a group of lads on a weekend away ends with a dramatic discovery of some
uncomfortable home truths.
As far as storyline is concerned there are no loose
ends. Whilst everything is accounted for between the two interlinked plays, the
tenuous plot in Eye seems only to exist in order for
Solemani to present a series of naive statements on society, peppered with a
litany of stereotypes. These characters are portrayed with varying degrees of
success by a large cast, although Carly-Jayne Hutchinson as Diana should be
commended for her convincing and committed performance.
For someone with feminist leanings supposedly
attempting to challenge ‘modern day notions of femininity’, Solemani’s
portrayal of her female characters is surprising: all are either witless morons
or whores and her characterisation consists purely of pigeon-holing and
vilification. The male characters are misogynistic and exploitative, but at
least show some shred of intelligence.
Humour works better in these plays when not clouded
by political statements, making Balls the more likeable
piece. That said, the laughs are generally at the expense of the message and at
points even undermine it. Jokes about anti-Semitism and abortion are clearly
tongue-in-cheek, but remain difficult territory to negotiate. And while the
author seeks to highlight the exploitation of women, she also largely points
the blame at them, while male characters manage to escape persecution.
Set changes are clumsily undertaken and the dance
segments in Eye diminish the show to an amateurish level.
The set itself however, by Chloe Lamford, is clever and versatile.
Eye/Balls shows glimpses of
potential but is let down by an inappropriate use of humour and a failure to
hold the right people to account. Audiences astute enough to see beyond the
cheap gags – many of which are gratuitously sexual – will be