February 4, 2023

‘Step’ by Lynette Linton at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

I had thought that Lynette Linton’s ‘Step’ would speak to me in an equal and opposite manner. Knowing the character’s move from East London to a Middle Class University was a reversal of my own move it filled me with the suspicion that there might be some overlap between her fiction and my reality. I am happy to say I was not wrong as I received a refreshingly realistic portrayal of the fractured neuroses, intentions and loyalties typified by my age group.


              One of the first things I noticed, and appreciated, about this play was its setting. The Theatre Royal of Stratford East opted for an open stage with no physical distinction between us and them. The surface of viewing and the surface of acting are flush with each other. This verifies director Rikki Beadle-Blair’s opening comment that ‘we have opened our doors and arms to the public’. Another feature of this format is a notable absence of some historical elements of theatre. Here there are no decorative backdrops whooshing up into the air via an elaborate series of pulleys. As such this minimalistic appearance actually allowed for an enhanced observation, free from distraction, on the increasingly muddled inter-connectivity of the characters. It is they who change rather than the stage.


                     In a story about shifting relationships of both people and place one of the most effective and recurring techniques Linton uses is exploiting a common culture reference. The online technologies of ‘Youtube’ and ‘Skype’ are both mentioned several times and, for me, they indicated the breaking apart and breaking down of friendship during a difficult transition. ‘Youtube’ embodies a sense of community, of sharing where they could all meet and enjoy the rap music of ‘Tyrone’. Whereas ‘Skype’ is the aftermath of isolation, simply yet brilliantly, the Skype scenes were all conducted with strong, lonely spotlights falling on the conversing characters.


                   All throughout her own experiences ‘Kara’, Tyrone’s confusingly close friend, has visitations from ‘Paul’ and ‘Scott’ the two prankster friends who stayed behind. They account for her internal hyper-sensitivity to her recent culture clash. They are part of home that always stays with her, some initial insecurity or lingering doubt which remains protective of her pride of place.


                 The frailty of our bonds between people and place is encapsulated in the quote ‘I’ve never had to share you’. Practically this is said between Kara and Tyrone but, for me, this could have been spoken by the unseen character of ‘home’. It conjured up the sorrowful image that a home feels rejected when its people leave it for the supposed bigger and better things. Once a person’s attention is divided amongst several interests home is left with only a fraction of the love it had.


                 By the time the play had finished I was left with a few thoughts that, though already embedded in my mind from my own life, had been pushed further into my awareness. Firstly that geographic distance and emotional distance are two very different things that do not necessarily follow on from each other. Secondly that the our expectations of important places and people such as campus, city, friend and parent have been, rightfully and skilfully investigated and not with clear cut findings. Most evidently I was left with the confirmation that our first step away from our front door can echo with an uncertainty that disappears from everyone else’s hearing but can be left ringing in our head.


by Struan Kennedy






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