random – at Leeds Playhouse Pop-up until 16 February

There is a saying that ‘less is more’ and it could not have been more perfectly illustrated than by the play ‘random’ by debbie tucker green.

It is ‘less’ on several counts: there is only one performer, there are no props, no scene changes and at a running time of fifty-five minutes, no wasted words. What there was was a backdrop of old household furniture items, mostly chairs, and an outstanding performance by Kiza Deen.

The play centres around Sister and her family –  Father, Mother and Brother – her work colleagues and her Man. It is not a mystery or thriller, so revealing the plot as outlined in the programme is not a spoiler; it is an observation of the way in which a random act can impact upon a family. All of the action takes place in a day, so the long-term consequences of the act are not embellished upon; just the immediate aftermath.

The amazing Kiza Deen plays all the characters, which is no mean feat, because as well as deepening her voice when speaking as Father, she swaps from her own British/West Indian accent as Sister to the full blown patois of Mother, the Estuary twang of her workmate and the gangland slang of Brother all in the blink of an eye.

The story begins at 07:37, with Sister trying to steal an extra few minutes in bed before getting ready for work.  It then moves to Brother’s room where she is trying to wake him from a deep, adolescent sleep. Between attempts she goes into the kitchen where Mother has made porridge for breakfast but burned it, causing black flecks to be mixed in with the oats. Discussions between the two follow about her dress style and she muses on how you can make her uniform look cool by hitching up the skirt.

After further attempts to raise Brother she goes off to work;  just a normal day on the planet. Everything changes later in the day when she receives a text saying ‘Come home’. At first she thinks it’s from her Man who she is expecting to ring but when it’s repeated a short time later, she realises it is from Mother. On arriving home she is met by the sight of the police who have brought the news that Brother has been fatally stabbed that afternoon and they would like someone to identify the body. The duty falls to Sister and Father. There is then an episode at the crime scene, with both acquaintances and strangers leaving cards and flowers and ending with Mother still not accepting the fact that her son is dead before a poignant final monologue.

As I have already said, the acting was amazing, so much so that when the lights came on at the end and Kiza Deen got to her feet from the crosslegged position which she had assumed for the final words, tears were visible in her eyes, and I was almost at the back of the auditorium. Her versatility spanned the light-hearted banter at the beginning, reminiscent of many a family in the country trying to put off doing what they have to do for as long as possible – to the scene at the morgue. Here again, less was more.

I am a fan of Scandinavian thrillers and crime series in general so I have seen some pretty spectacular and gory ways in which people have arrived at their demise, but this brought the meaning of a violent death home with far more impact than all of the others put together. When the body of Brother was rolled over in the morgue, it revealed the entry point of the blade. ‘You really had to look to be able to see it,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t a gash or a hack; it was a tiny hole through his side which had gone through his, his….somethin’ important.’  I was a wreck.

Mother’s inability to accept the gravity of the event was beautifully written, with her being obsessed by the policemen’s boots and heavy shoes, and how they kept them on, even when in the front room which was only reserved for guests, and the consequences for the best carpet.

Director Gbolahan Obisesan. Photographs provided by Leeds Playhouse.

The direction by Gbolahan Obisesan was also superb. The monologue was performed on a bare stage with the actor walking from one end to the other, directing her words straight to the audience. The switch from voice to voice was enhanced at one point by a switch of delivery method. There was a barely audible bass drum beat at about one-second intervals during part of the performance, to which I paid little mind at the outset but I then noticed that her delivery had changed to match the beat, turning the soliloquy almost into a rap. The other piece of music I noticed was a cello solo over the final words. There might have been others as these were done so subtly that it was almost subliminal.

I would like to make mention of the Set and Costume Designer who, at first glance, had next to nothing to do. Kiza Deen wore a normal shirt and slacks, which might as well have come from her own wardrobe, and the ’set’ was a collection of old household detritus, mainly wooden dining chairs crammed onto a scaffolding at the back, seemingly at ‘random’. I might be reading a little too much into this, but as well as the chair seats serving as small screens onto which the Lighting Designer, Cloe Kenward, projected spotlights at one point, the discarded furniture seemed to symbolise the throwaway society which has now extended to human life itself.

I never leave Leeds Playhouse in a mood of ambivalence and last night was no exception. I have once again witnessed a brilliant production which will live long in the memory.  Not bad for a play lasting under an hour.

Feature photograph is Kiza Deen.

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