Nine (Drayton Arms)

One of the best things about having time, energy and opportunity to devote to exploring London theatre in 2019 is finding the small shows which sometimes fly under the radar from new companies.

One which caught my eye when it was first announced was Unchained Theatre’s Nine, which has its second and final performance tonight at the Drayton Arms in South Kensington.

Detail of poster image for Nine.
Detail of poster image for Nine.

In its favour was a one-act structure which runs at a tightly executed forty minutes, with two performers on stage throughout. The stage is marked by white lines on the floor and one hanging light, with other areas of the ‘above a pub’ space like windowsills and corners also being utilised.

The women are nameless. We don’t know where they are (a prison, a mental hospital, their imagination?), why they are there, or what time period we are in. They dress identically in grey t-shirts and sweatpants, with bare feet.

Amy Whitrod Brown and Ana Luiza Ulsig
Amy Whitrod Brown and Ana Luiza Ulsig

Is this a real scenario, or cosplay? Do these women know each other or are they imagining a companion? Is that really blood, or the red they smear on themselves ? Who are the oppressors who are invisible to us, who announce their presence only by knocks, flickering lights, and an air of menace?

Engaging with each other both physically (pushing, fighting) and mentally (a torrent of abuse here, a game of tell there, their own brand of emotional torture on each other), these women mirror each other in words and phrases, playing a game of survival which is at turns amusing, dark and eventually tender.

With talk of “being saved by a moonbeam” hinting at a world outside which may not be in conflict or apocalypse, Nine leaves an audience perplexed and provoked.

Coral Tarran makes a fine directing debut – she recently performed her comic one-woman show How I Became a Dominatrix Through Damn Lies and Statistics at the King’s Head.

The performers are Amy Whitrod Brown and Ana Luiza Ulsig, both effective and convincing in roles which require shape-shifting, toughness, and vulnerability.

This is a company to keep your eye on. You can find out more about them at Unchained Theatre Company.