Review: I Stopped… .When. VAULT Festival

Written by and starring Nicole Acquah, a new piece of slam theatre is now playing at the VAULT festival. Directed by Darcas A. Stevens, I Stopped… .When. uses the setting of the final rounds of a poetry slam and the awkward interactions in its green room, as a place to discuss relationships and race in a thoughtful, complicated and tentatively funny way.

Staring Acquah, Lauren La Rocque and Tom Nguyen as the poets and Joseph Cullen as their ungracious MC, the show presents a mix of brilliant and less-brilliant poetry. Ren’s (Nguyen) poetry touches upon bisexuality, life as a foreign student in the UK and the privileges and frustrations of being a white-passing Singaporean. Naya (Acquah) presents uncompromising political and personal poems, criticising the absent judging panel and audience, as well as the show’s real audience, in some of the play’s most poignant moments. Adele’s (La Rocque) poetry is less ambiguous as she openly explores the problems race has stirred up in her current relationship, captured in the enraging poem, “when your white boyfriend asks you really nicely to be his slave.” The rhythm of the slam poetry is contrasted with MC Chris Sparks’ regular obnoxious interjections as Cullen plays a really hateable twenty-first century villain.

Scene changes, between the competition and the green room are marked by lighting, projection and music changes, but unfortunately the music in the ‘behind-the-scene’ scenes obscures the dialogue, which, without the structure of poetry, teeters on the cheesy-side. But these moments serve as something of a poetry workshop and allow us to understand the events that lead to the poems we hear during the competition.  

As Naya’s anti-racist activism is conflicted as much by the prospect of dating a white guy as it is in dating a white-passing guy, I Stopped… .When. explores how our politics and activism interfere with who we choose to date, and whether we should let it. But race isn’t the only complicating factor in the relationships presented in the play, as public perception, particularly online, worries each of the characters. The addition of the Internet make this play a love story of our time, as the web proves that it really does complicate everything, but the play argues that it doesn’t really matter.

A mix of impressive writing, gripping drama and political challenge, I Stopped… .When. is a contemporary play like no other, and may well be one of the most thought-provoking plays you have the chance to see at this year’s VAULT festival.

I Stopped… .When. is playing VAULT Festival until 27 January 2019. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.