To say Aleshea Hariss’ new play is a tale of revenge would be a bit reductionist, for it wouldn’t do justice to its innate exploration of abuse and trauma through the lens of its titular character. The story follows 21-year-old twins Anaia and Racine (played by Adelayo Adedayo and Tamara Lawrance respectively) who travel across the South Western belt of the United States on a mission from ‘god’, a self-christened sobriquet for their mother who they believed was dead for the last 18 years. As kids, the twins managed to survive a gruesome fire that had not only brought their ‘god’ a life of gradual decay, but also had shaped their entire life with visible scars they carried, on their bodies and otherwise. They are now on a quest to find their father, seeking 18 year’s worth of answers, justifications and explanations. Anyone who resists them is taken down, be it the lawyer who helped absolve their father’s role in the heinous act or even their half-brothers whose ignorance about it all can’t salvage their deadly fate. Colliding aesthetics across the ancient, the modern, the tragic, the Spaghetti Western, hip-hop and Afropunk, this production is a stunning exploration of how far one is willing to go to take control of their narrative.
The production is led by stellar performances by its talented ensemble. Tamara Lawrance’s Racine is fiery and determined, refusing to succumb to the trauma of their childhood and willing to get her hands dirty to finally put their past behind them. Adelayo Adedayo’s portrayal of Anaia is deeply moving, not only bringing out her inner conflicts about the violent path of revenge set out by their mother but also lending herself to see the ‘human’ sides of the demons they meet on the way. Cecilia Noble delivers a hauntingly measured performance as the mother, highlighting her self-fulfilling intentions that risk alienating her estranged daughters even more.
Ray Emmet Brown brings the laugh with his portrayal of lawyer Chuck Hall, a man on the verge of a pill-induced delirium unable to escape the guilt of being on the wrong side of justice 18 years ago. Vivienne Acheampong’s brief yet impactful presence as Angie, the second wife, allows us to glimpse through the rose-tinted facade of their abusive relationship. Ernest Kingsley Jnr and Rudolphe Mdlongwa bring a lot of energy and presence as the twins’ half-brothers Scotch and Riley, each with a vibrant personality that imbues dark humour to the tragedy that unfolds. Last but not least is Mark Monero’s spine-chilling portrayal of the father, bringing out the character’s deeply neurotic impulses and violent slips with a charm that catches you completely offguard.
Needless to say, Aleshea Harris’ dramatic text brings these diverse characters (and the layers of their neurosis) together through tight-knit scenes and sharp-witten dialogue. The use of stage directions as spoken text, such as when characters read out the descriptions and actions of their dramatis personae, is especially powerful. The entire production is a visual spectacle, backed by Chloe Lamford’s modular set design that takes us from domestic spaces and outdoor deserts to eerie roads and alleyways. Max Perryment’s sound design and Simisola Lucia Majekodunmis’ light design bring a lot of personality to the show’s fiery, quick-paced and explosive narrative. Director Ola Ince’s ability to bring all these elements together demonstrates a formidable directing toolkit that truly captures the audience’s imagination throughout its 90-minute duration. To summarize, the Royal Court’s production of Is God Is is a stunning exploration of identities, control and trauma.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 16th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★
You can watch Is God Is at The Royal Court Theatre SW1W 8AS till Saturday 23rd October. Read more and book your tickets at https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/isgodis/