House & Amongst the Reeds @ Assembly George Square Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

Theatre company Clean Break’s mission is to showcase female writers and performers, and produce work around the themes of women and crime. Both House, written by Somalia Seaton, and Amongst the Reeds by Chino Odimba were developed on the company’s Emerging Writers’ Programme. The two pieces of short new writing, performed as a double bill, aim to tell the stories of women who have been criminalised.

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Photo: Katherine Leedale

In House, sisters Patricia (Shvorne Marks) and Jemima (Rebecca Omogbehin) meet at their mother’s home to celebrate her birthday. Patricia hasn’t spoken to her mum for years, and her relationship with her sister is also patchy. Once their mum (Michelle Greenidge) arrives, memories of Patricia’s departure opens old wounds. She wants to discuss what happened to her and why she was sent away, while her mum refuses to get involved, instead turning to prayer. In the meantime Jemima, who is the younger sibling, begins to remember things she was always forced to dismiss by her sister and mother.

Seaton’s play looks at the way in which family and communities can easily outcast a person for something that is out of their control. The piece is fluid, building up tension without giving anything away until the arrival of the mother. The play highlights the close-knit culture of the Nigerian church, and the pressure this puts on younger members of the community. Both sisters have been raised to be dutiful to their families, but some of their choices presents them as disappointments to their mother, and especially the church community. The effectiveness of the piece comes from the performers who bring it to life. In particular, Marks perfectly captures Patricia’s anger and upset towards her mother. Through her speech in the end, Seaton allows the character to finally regain some strength and control in her life which provides a powerful close to the play.

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Photo: Katherine Leedale

Like House, Odimba’s Amongst the Reeds also looks at a female relationship. Oni (Omogbehin) and Gillian (Jan Le) are both refugees on the run from the people who were supposed to be taking care of them. The two become friends and make an abandoned building their home, taking care to only leave at night to avoid the authorities. It becomes increasingly difficult for them to hide however, especially when the heavily pregnant Gillian gets increasingly closer to giving birth. If she seeks help, she risks deportation and her baby taken away from her, but if she doesn’t, her baby may not survive.

The central theme of the play is the treatment of refugees in this country. At different points in the play, the two are faced with authorities interrogating them, discounting everything they have to say. Odima also uses the girls’ reasons for running away to bring to light the false dreams people are fed in order to leave their homes and travel to other countries, and the desperate situations poverty can put them in. The two performers are great and Omogbehin’s energetic Oni compliments the stillness of Le’s Gillian. The repetitive actions in the play do get jarring towards the end, and no formal explanation of the girls’ final situation is given, which lacks closure to the play. But as a starting point, these short pieces are very powerful and their exploration of the topics are commendable, so it would be great to see them developed fully into more detailed pieces of work.

House & Amongst the Reeds will be at Assembly George Square Theatre (The Box) until 27th August (not 17th). The double bill transfers to The Yard Theatre in London from 1st – 17th September. Find out more about Clean Break.

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