Mule is a fast-paced two-hander inspired by the story of the Peru Two, two British girls convicted of attempting to smuggle cocaine into Peru in 2013. Writer and Director Kat Woods’ retelling investigates how the media’s depiction of these women distracts from a much darker problem.
The characters are painted as naïve victims of their story; they set out to get a job in Ibiza over the summer, get involved with the wrong people along the way, and don’t understand the repercussions of their actions until it’s too late. In a moment where one of the actors breaks the fourth wall and explains that drug cartels are increasingly targeting women who are emotionally and financially vulnerable, it becomes clear this play is a cautionary tale for the twenty first century.
Both written and directed by Woods, this production demonstrates promising talent. I wasn’t aware of the Peru Two previous to this, and the play discusses a problem which indeed doesn’t get a lot of screen time or column space. However, it’s difficult to connect with the story on an emotional level due to the nature of the storytelling. The performers switch scenes and characters rapidly and bluntly, decorating the supporting roles with exaggerated gestures and accents. Added to this, Design Associate, Maren Sisterhenn, has essentially created a black box backdrop, in which bold lighting shifts define a change in time and/or space that suggests a Brechtian influence. At key moments within the play, headlines, front pages, online comments flash on a screen above the stage, designed by Carrie Shearman. Although this technological dimension to the production repeats an emphasis on media spin, its simplicity jars with the otherwise slick style of production. Overall, the sharp twists and turns of this piece reflect upon the brief glimpse the media offers into a story like this, yet fails to engage a response.
Mule is an excellent vehicle for its performers to show off their range. Aoife Lennon and Edith Poor bounce off each other like a seasoned double act, with Poor demonstrating particular comic flair. The writing depends on their ability to deliver an energetic and precise performance, and these women definitely deliver. The strength of their performances are the most impressive element of this production.
Woods has a very good understanding of pace, but struggles to paint a picture with her words that invokes a reaction. With one of the Peru Two returning to Britain this summer, the story still feels focused upon the women involved over the experience they went through in the incredibly harsh conditions of Ancon 2 in Peru.
Mule is playing at Omnibus until 19 November. For more information and tickets, see the Omnibus, Clapham website.