I grew up in a small village just outside Plymouth called Yealmpton. My formative years were spent loitering at the park, sneaking into the local pub, nicking pick and mix from the one convenience store in a 12 mile radius and evading capture in the countless wheat fields surrounding the village (Theresa May would have been proud).
Such a village is the very setting of Natasha Marshall’s powerful one-woman play, centred around Jaz, a 17 year old black girl who struggles internally with her treatment by the small minded and ignorant residents of her village, (as she says “I am that mixed-race kid, 50/50. I’m about as black as it goes round here,”) while dreaming of a better life studying at a prestigious drama school and pursuing a career being an actor, a dream she desperately wants to achieve but lacks self-belief. Jaz has a best friend, Brogan, who has her back to an extent, but is often caught up in her own drama to notice Jaz’s frustrations and struggles.
We join the story with Brogan having started a blossoming relationship with the local lout Mitchell, whose views and opinions on Jaz are less than savoury to say the least, and the play explores the issues of racism, bullying, loneliness, but with uplifting themes of bravery, friendship and aspiring for something better.
Natasha Marshall performs all the characters herself with fantastic energy and enthusiasm, and stunning physical work which really brings each character to vivid life. Jaz is always buoyant and excitable, with bristling nervous energy, Brogan continuously slouches and tuts with sass and attitude, and Mitchell wipes his nose and clears his throat sickeningly, with the body language of an impudent caveman. Marshall is truly a gifted performer.
While Jaz’s specific struggles were not something I could specifically relate to, I could certainly empathise, and I could feel my blood pressure rising rapidly some moments, mainly when Mitchell was spouting his moronic opinions as if they were gospel. I’ve certainly met people like him, and actually all the characters felt very real and familiar, which is a credit to Natasha’s strong writing and performance.
There were some pacing issues, sometimes the story felt like it was meandering slightly, but always got back on track. But on the whole I thought this was a hugely impressive show, with a rollercoaster of emotions and written and performed with undeniable talent and a sparkling energy, and features an important social commentary that delivers a real emotional punch. This is surely what fringe theatre is all about.