Originally written for What’s Peen Seen?
Unbroken Line is a solo project, which fuses spoken word theatre, live painting and Balinese dance. The comic physical theatre piece is supported by the Arts Council England, exploring Jamie Zubairi’s dreamlike world in which he plays multiple characters. The venture is amiable and ambitious, effectively depicting Malayan foreigner Dolah exploring London via a mythical warrior Wirrah, who takes him on a wider journey in search of who he is, what he is and, ultimately, how he might make sense of his life. However, the success of the artistic vision of the piece ultimately suffers from its ambitiousness somewhat.
As an established actor, artist, poet and theatre maker, Zubairi’s performance was technically sound and well executed. The performance space was a small studio black room, which posed itself as a very intimate and therefore challenging space. The actor worked well with this dynamic and it also engaged the audience on a much more sophisticated level. Part of the vibrancy of the performance was achieved through the effective physicality Zubairi brought so close to us. There were moments where the actor brushed past my legs and winked or nodded towards a certain audience member during his topical, comic asides about modern London life; these were effective in engaging the audience in a performance which demanded one hundred percent of our attention. This is especially true because of the dreamlike, surreal dynamic of Dolah’s story. The performance was certainly a great insight into the rich cultural fabric of Malaysia and the history of Malayans such as Dolah. The Anglo-side of Dolah’s heritage was less explored which proved a considerable weakness to the overall plot. Although, at the end, Dolah meets Northern Irish friend Joe, whose presence merely introduced Dolah to the discovery of his artistic potential, and not much else.
The painting included in the performance proved to be one of the cleverer elements of the performance. This scene uncovered the first sign of Dolah discovering his identity, and definitely developed him as a character in a much more three dimensional way, something which was slightly lacking before this stage. At this point we were rooting for Dolah, who finally saw an end to his personal crisis. The usage of puppetry was the highlight of the show, depicting an older couple in a park scene where Dolah was confessing his deepest feelings to the spirit, Wirrah; this moment encapsulated a brief moment of contentment which signified a turn towards this in Dolah’s story, I think. The Balinese dance did appear slightly rough around the edges and unpracticed but was a very interesting and welcome addition to the physical texturing of the whole performance.
The performance overall was extremely engaging and vibrant. We were committed to following Dolah’s journey and increasingly began to understand a very different culture from that of London. Sadly, the background of Dolah and how he came to London was rushed through and the coming out of the character towards the end of the play complicates an already dense hour-long performance. The homosexuality of Dolah is intended to further enhance his disillusionment and feelings of marginalisation in an alien culture; but it seems to have been a hasty afterthought. Having said this, I would certainly recommend this performance, which is an inspiring one-man show.
This production runs until 15 December 2012.