Review: We Dig

Ovalhouse, London.
This production ran from 5th – 19th October 2019

I imagine, many of us as children found there was nothing quite like digging a hole, whether that was in the sand at the beach, or somewhere in the back garden, away from the flower bed, or else your Mum wouldn’t be best pleased. Add to that the joy and excitement of your friends being with you. The anticipation of digging a really big hole. How far down could you go before uncovering something? The stories you would share in the process, the plans, the hopes, the dreams…

Emma Frankland and company have been given a unique opportunity to do just that at the Ovalhouse. As Emma casually addresses the audience at the start of We Dig, we find out the building is soon, sadly, to be demolished. To be replaced like so much has been in the Vauxhall and Oval area in recent years. The audience can already see that the stage area has been ripped up and all that is left is a fenced-off crater, into which Emma climbs back to dig away with a small plastic spade. What she needs are some friends to make it bigger and they arrive, literally breaking through a brick wall in order to get into the space, with some shovels and picks. What ensues over the next seventy minutes is a carefully choreographed and thoughtful build up to the messages this production is trying to portray.

This is a story about friendships, sometimes eclectic, sometimes challenging and what it is that binds them together. Each person has their own individual story to tell, which develop throughout the play. We hear about their joys, challenges and setbacks in different parts of the world. At the same time, each member of the cast seem to be trying to physically deal with something on the stage, whether that is breaking through a large slab of concrete, stopping a flowing leak from the ceiling, trying to grow crops, to stopping a fire. Throughout the hole gets bigger and objects unearthed.

Peppered throughout the play Emma does what you expect, providing strong eloquent monologues, even whilst operating a pneumatic drill. Aptly, whilst the play was running, the Extinction Rebellion protests were happening, and Emma talks about the use of natural resources, always taking and not having anything left for future generations. This is a useful analogy to what is going on onstage, as we see each character struggle with the individual resources they have as they try to deal with the physical challenges. By the end, we see them come together in collaboration using the leak for example to put out the fire, or to water the crops planted and celebrate what they have achieved, the obstacles overcome, new resources found or created and what brings them together.

You are not going to see a performance quite like this. It has a rare setting and the boundaries of what you expect to see in a physical theatre space are pushed beyond conventional limits. Expect Emma’s unique style but intermingled with those of her friends on stage, giving the play an even greater perspective. There is so much you will take home with you. For me the most poignant was the burning of negative remarks and comments, disappearing, magician like into thin air. This is a Trans Femme story and perspective on issues that can affect many of us. I have held back on saying that, because, as said in the performance, that shouldn’t be the main theme. It just happens that all the characters on stage are and their stories reflect that. What we take from this is up to us.

© Grace Johnstone 2019

This performance has now closed. Follow @elbfrankland on Twitter for information and updates on future work by Emma.

Screen Shot 2019-11-02 at 17.57.08.png

© Image Rosie Powell

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