Review: Until The Flood, Arcola Theatre

Dale Orlandersmith’s Until The Flood is a collage of personalities; it explores the way in which a moment is monumentalised. That moment was in Missouri, when a black teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer back in 2014. Orlandersmith loosens the reins of history. Instead of giving us a linear recitation of Brown’s story, she uses a plethora of different monologues to fill the hole left in his harrowing wake. We feel the ripples, the gushing, and the flood that swills around the town. 

Emergent from interviews with Missourian residents, each of her eight monologues articulates a different voice from Michael Brown’s local community. Every opinion is aired. Unspeakable thoughts come to life and to light. Orlandersmith gets under black skin and under white skin: there’s an abusive redneck who we’re encouraged to feel a warped sort of pity for; a naive school teacher who struggles to see beyond herself, digging a deeper hole of self-isolation; a pair of burgeoning but entitled young journalists (one black, one white), who belittle people into pitiable nuggets for a media-obsessed world to chew upon; and a young, scholarly black boy convulsing with fear over the fate of his fellows. 

Until The Flood is a largely successful exercise in documentary theatre. Yet the script does sometimes seem to wander down irrelevant paths, potentially over-committing to the background tints at the expense of continuity and structure. While these wanderings do often unearth shining glimmers of humorous respite, at times I find myself, and my attention, lost amongst these winding back-stories. Whilst the performance achieves its ambition of enshrining the commonplace, I feel as though the monologues would shine brighter if they were weaved into an interconnected whole. 

The set, designed by Takeshi Kata, is candlelit, awash with memories and elegies. Flowers laid in homage and in hope act as a platform, giving rise to Brown’s true legacy that lives on in people, and their voices. Costume Designer Kaye Voyce insists upon simplicity. Orlandersmith’s attire undergoes only minute alterations to signify a change of character: she’s a vessel, not a spokeswoman.

The play preaches inclusion rather than exclusion, and ultimately blames the overarching structures of society, rather than the individuals within them. In an ever-divided world, political polarisation is never helpful. Until The Flood brandishes large dollops of mutual understanding: we must digest these to fuel our fight against institutionalised racism. 

Until The Flood is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 28 September. For more information and tickets, visit the Arcola Theatre website