A group of queer squatters in Brixton in the ‘70s navigate a world that is against who they are. On Railton Road gives a glimpse into their lives with jumps to puppet-show caricatures highlighting the abuse and systemic oppression that was rife.
Louis Rembges and the Brixton Faeries' script is beautiful – it entangles moments of stark mundane realism with more profound reflective commentary and totally absurd chaos in a way that somehow just works. Though we long for more consistent direction in the slice-of-life scenes, the Punch & Judy sections of the show are a triumph; it is a stroke of genius to showcase abject horrors through magnified pantomime (emphasising how ridiculous it is that this kind of behaviour ever happens), before gut-punching us later as clowning gives way to reality. The script needs a little tightening, and there are moments of subtle exposition that would work on screen but need more clarity on stage, but overall it really is a fantastic piece of writing.
Though the naturalistic sections of the play generally lack clear direction, sexual intimacy is directed and performed masterfully – Thomas Royal and Manish Gandhi engage in a scene that is perfectly passionate without being over-indulgent, and the chemistry between the two in that moment is palpable and exactly what is called for.
In what would seem a very limited performance space – simply a large room with dividers to separate a backstage area and chairs put out either side of a playing space – in fact every aspect has been carefully arranged and considered to bring the feel of communal living to life. The action surrounds the audience and even some costume changes take place in view (though slightly obscured) to cleverly bring about this environment of public privacy.
Enhancing the atmosphere further still are Sophie Crawford's beautiful musical arrangements, never stealing the show, but bringing such a comforting sense of home. However, while a lovely sentiment to close on, the end song feels out of place and wholly unnecessary in what was otherwise a profound and powerful work of art.
The costuming by Valeriya Voronkina is exceptional, especially in the Punch & Judy sections of the play – the use of mundane objects to clothe figures of authority is an irreverent marvel – and the reveal of a fascinatingly stunning puppet by Oliver James-Hymans takes everyone's breath away!
Nicholas Marrast-Lewis' portrayal of Jack is completely heart-warming, and Hannah van der Westhuysen is a tour de force as Casper. However, it is Jamal Franklin who takes the stage by storm from the moment he steps out – this actor knows his way around a script and perfectly balances hysterical sass with nuanced depth – and Aoife Smyth has jaws on the floor from her utterly spectacular performance of the ridiculous clownish Mrs Mould to her invitingly grounded portrayal of Marie. Truly, there are some delicious performances to be found here.
On Railton Road is certainly one to see now and to keep an eye on for its future!
It runs at the Museum of the Home until 18th November.
Review: Penny Lane Photos: Lara Dunn