Wednesday, May 22

Rika’s Rooms – The Playground Theatre

The world premiere of Gail Louw’s Rika’s Rooms is adapted from the playwright’s novel of the same name and based on the real-life experiences of her late mother’s childhood flight from Nazi Germany, uneasy teenage settlement in Israel, marriage and immigration to apartheid South Africa, and eventual deterioration and disintegration living with dementia in England. Despite the weighty nature both of the story itself and the delivery method of its storytelling, this harrowing one woman show is suffused with love and light.

Emma Wilkinson Wright is a revelation as Rika, where many a singular actor might seem overburdened and stoop under the heft of so dense a series of monologues, she acts with a potent naturalism, ruthlessly efficient in both vocal and physical transformation to the point of mesmerisation. Alone onstage she is impossible to pull one’s eyes away from even as Louw’s script forces audiences to confront some very grim realities. Ranging in this performance from depicting adolescent sexuality to elderly violence and a whole host of emphatically tactile experiences in between, the intimate connection she fosters with the audience through sheer force of earnest vulnerability is powerfully winsome.

Photo: Bastian Knapp

Directed with focus and restraint by Anthony Shrubsall, Wright is well technically supported by Set and Costume Designer, Male Arcucci who builds a world in two flats so practical and variable that it manages to encompass three continents tremendously convincingly. Lighting Designer, Petr Vocka too accomplishes a staggering amount of visual storytelling and lends Wright an immense assist in ensnaring audiences.

The detailed descriptions Louw gives Wright to realize as Rika, of her sister’s kibbutz, of a swanky hotel, a care home, or a car ride, are all so vividly rendered in performance that it cannot fail to activate both imagination and empathy in its viewers. Neither devoid of humour nor particularly reliant on it, Rika’s Rooms both demands serious consideration and invites the audience into a certain kind of escapism. Clearly written through the lens of a fine eye for social justice but charged with a powerful desire to celebrate love in whatever strange and unseemly forms it comes in, this play approaches its themes of political responsibility with a dignified gracefulness, all the more affecting the more intimate and messier it gets.

Rika’s Rooms plays at The Playground Theatre until the 10th of March.

Reviewer: Kira Daniels

Reviewed: 5th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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