Essex (Southend, Romford Upminster) takes centre stage in this new play from Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, with five people at a crossroads in their life. Misfits mixes fast cars, school reunions, props from the past, Alexa, family and friendly secrets, tragedy, and dishonesty as we dip in and out of the stories we see and hear.
A world away from London – even though the District and Central lines head into the county – Essex has its own stereotypes and sensibilities. It may seem a place you seek to escape, but things are rarely as they seem, and it might not be greener on the other side after all.
Four writers worked on this play, commissioned and developed during England’s first lockdown. Now streaming to raise additional funds for the theatre, it looks and feels very professional, with a lot of thought given to an online audience experience.
If I have a criticism of the piece, it is that at 115 minutes it feels a little long, and there is a reliance in some scenes for bad language to signify working-class speech as a shorthand. I appreciated the writing much more when it was tighter, fresher and more character driven.
Alice (Anne Odeke), a black child giving a school presentation, is cut short because she overruns her allocated time, but tells her story anyway, of a Southend beauty pageant infiltrated by a supposed Senegalese princess, in fact an Essex resident called Joanna (also Odeke). It is the first decade of the 20th century, and she’s an exotic in a predominately white world.
Tag, real name Richard (Thomas Coombes), recalls his childhood before he went north to university and eventual success in business. He is complicated by sexual feelings towards his best friend (“the kind you can’t admit in Essex”), expectations, and a yen to escape from the routine weekend evenings in the pub and on the high street. He’s an intriguing character.
Fiza (Mona Goodwin), thirty-something, has found herself alone, “with the imprint of an ex-husband on one side of the bed”. She remembers her carefree partying days on alcopops as she considers whether to attend a school reunion. Anyone who has considered such a prospect will feel an affinity with her as she feels inadequate to her high-flying former classmates.
Meanwhile, Daisy (Gemma Salter), with her many addresses, none for very long, goes into labour and remembers the sacrifice her beautiful and talented mother made to raise her as a baby. That this character is in no way a figure of pity is testament to the quality of both writing snd performance in this segment.
Written by Anne Odeke, Guleraana Mir, Kenny Emson and Sadie Hasler, and co-directed by Emma Baggot and Douglas Rintoul, Misfits has the potential to be restaged, but I found Tag’s story too crammed for the time devoted to it, and Joanna’s tale didn’t fit closely with the others.
Misfits runs until 22 November and tickets can be booked here, from £15.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Misfits.
Image credit: Zbigniew Kotkiewicz.