Security @ BAC, London

written and performed by
Zena Edwards

directed by
Anthony Shrubsall
‘Choreo-poetry’ is not a term I’d come across before, but apparently Zena Edwards’ work falls under that banner.

Appearing in a rougher form earlier this year at the BAC’s Burst Festival, Edwards’ Security is a compelling mixture of music, poetry and theatre; a one woman show that feels bigger than itself, superbly executed and texturally rich.

At the heart of the piece, both written and performed by spoken word artist Edwards, is an unlikely friendship between Ayleen, a young would-be MC, only just turned sixteen and, Mahmoud, a middle-aged Palestinian photographer.
The pair first meet each other on the South Bank, where Mahmoud often travels to take photographs; she initially takes offence at being snapped, but finds the older man interesting. Despite the difference in background and age, they discover they have things in common. Gradually a connection forms between them. Though he does not act on it, Mahmoud is attracted to the young girl (who is, in turn, repelled by his slobby appearance) but, we discover, they have both experienced loss, their worlds are no longer safe and secure, and this unites them.

Other characters include an 80-year-old man who likes to keep his shoes highly shined because ladies notice such things and Ayleen’s good-hearted, laid-back older brother. The result is a potent urban collage, funny and fresh and incredibly well-observed. With almost no props, save for Mahmoud’s camera and hip flask, Edwards inhabits each of these people completely, changing her facial expressions, her posture and her voice accordingly.

For the most part she avoids caricature, giving each of these people real shape and colour, from Ayleen’s teeth-sucking, street veneer to Mahmoud’s casual sense of resignation (his son, phoning from New York, reprimands him for not getting to know his granddaughter only for Mahmoud to muse that she can’t miss what she never had.); it’s easy to visualise these characters, Edwards makes them feel whole.

In between the monologues, Edwards sings: she has a wonderful voice and these interludes serve to give texture and depth to the piece. While Security feels not dissimilar to debbie tucker green’s random (staged earlier this year at the Royal Court), in so much as they are both multi-character monologues about knife violence, if anything Security is the richer piece, bolstered by Edwards’ vocal ability and her capacity to flick from character to character. The music and the method of delivery elevate what might otherwise have been a more conventional piece of monologue theatre.

In a way it’s almost a let down that the piece culminates with the flash of a blade and a senseless death. While it’s vital that theatre tackles such things, London is such a rich city and Edwards’ talent is so considerable, it would have been fascinating to see where else this piece could have gone. But though it ends up heading down a familiar (if depressingly necessary) road, it is the journey that remains longest in the memory: Edwards’ strong, expressive face, her stage sense and her ability to breathe life in to the most unexpected of characters.

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