The Door, Birmingham REP, Friday 15th January, 2015
This new one-woman piece from writer-performer Amahra Spence draws parallels between the experiences of a young black woman in the West Midlands with those of her grandfather who arrived from Jamaica, alone at the age of 16. Spence drops in and out of characters with economy and ease – Grandad is larger-than-life but she never overeggs her portrayal or descends into caricature or stereotype. That said, he does come across as your everyday elderly West Indian bloke! It’s affectionately done, and Spence saves the hardship and the gruelling episodes for the young woman, when the humour is replaced with some vivid, gutsy writing and some harrowing moments of storytelling.
Spence animates her words with gesture and tone of voice – she is clearly in command of the material and the medium. She keeps us hooked, despite sometimes the patois being a bit dense (“It’s all right, I don’t understand what that one’s about” she confesses) and some of the anecdotes having more impact than others. What comes across is a sense of family, and closeness. Collecting Grandad’s stories reveals more about the collector than the storyteller.
Director Daniel Bailey prevents the pared-down staging from becoming static and Spence’s scene and mood changes are supported by some sharp lighting from Ben Pacey and an eclectic soundtrack from Enrico Aurigemma.
It feels like a very personal event. There is honesty and authenticity running through the entire piece. It’s touching, stark, funny and uplifting – an excellent debut from a fresh and frank new playwright. There is a genuine thrill of delight at the end when she invites the old man himself to join her on stage for a bow. She has evoked him so vividly we feel that we know and love him too.