Nestled in the heart of Covent Garden is the Actors’ Church at St Paul’s, usually passed through as one explores the heart of the city and its My Fair Lady flower markets (originally what is now inside the Royal Opera House). But the church is presently home to the Iris Summer Festival, with a varied presentation of theatre to suit everyone.
With social distancing and the beautiful summer in mind, the festival seats itself in the secluded gardens of the church, dressing the space with a rustic charm – raggedy dull hued bunting adorning the avenue, a tiki-style bar, and a mural on the gates with pens hanging to leave your mark on the space.
There is a brilliant lighting and sound rig that really adds a technical flourish to the stage without being imposing, and the performer (and writer) Yan Toby-Amisi is subtly radio miked, carrying him over the cries of a city awakening after a year of slumber. There is the sound of birds flying and cawing overhead, whilst performers in Covent Garden call out to the shoppers and dinners avidly watching. All the while here we are, squirreled away in our own private performance. The clock strikes on the hour and Toby-Amisi scorns its ominous tones for their interruption.
Retracing his youth growing up in the hood with dreams of one day getting out, Daniel recounts his closest friendship – the ties that bind them, and the ways in which they grew apart. Through race, class and time, Daniel reflects on their connection and what their poignant friendship means to him, the weight and impact of what happened and how it has chartered the course of his life and his actions.
Toby-Amisi quickly proves himself to be a skilled orator through his delicate transitions from prose to poetry to rap, carrying us through his story with firm control. He sets the scene before building in the emotion in a way that packs a punch, using the audience as a canvas on which to play out the narrative. We are one entity, forming into his friend, his lover, his words, and even his music as we are roped into creating the beat of his rap. He binds us with him, peers in a shared experience, welcoming us to call back to his words in a way that is traditionally forbidden in theatre.
I find his words to be a mess of contradictions, though that is one of the things that I most admire about the text as it forms a crystal reflection of the human condition and the complexities of the issues explored and ownership therein. Wrestling before us with his words, we see a man with so much care and passion, but also anger at the unjust world that he lives and dreams in. It would be impossible to leave this compelling piece without taking with you a feeling of both awe and sorrow.
BLUD. was performed at The Actors Church on 29th July 2021. For more information visit Iris Theatre’s Website.