Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s production Compartmentalisation 101 covers a lot of thematic ground in an hour and a half. Written by Ally Shilson, its ambition is admirable, although some fine-tuning would bring out its full conceptual potential.
The play centres around Cal (Megan Wrigglesworth) and her girlfriend Nat (Khanyiso Mtwana) who take a trip to an island which Cal’s mother has called home for over ten years. Through extended conversations with Nat, Cal reveals the nature of her relationship with her mother.
The play’s core theme is the nature of this complex mother-and-daughter relationship. The initial attention given to Cal’s thoughts on her mother move onto heated discussions about race relations on the island and in society generally. Nat’s commentary on how the island has become inhabited by white people who hold racist views, and the tensions between Nat and Cal on the existence of such racism, brings to light a debate that is sensitive and pertinent.
There is a sense that the themes might be more deftly woven together, as the back-and-forth conversations between Cal and Nat on political topics feel a little disjointed from the rest of the script.
The production features some interesting staging, with the impression of an island villa successfully created by light furniture and well-designed props. The aeroplane scenes are particularly successful, creating a sense of claustrophobia that is humorously delivered by the cast.
Camilla Makhmudi’s characterisation of Cal’s mother is particularly strong. She deftly treads the line between being loving, hopeless, yet self-aware. Cal’s mother is the most three-dimensional character in the play, creating a real sense of bittersweet pathos in her interactions with Cal.
There are some powerful moments of quietness, although some scenes languish a little too long in trying to curate a reflective feeling, when more pace would have been welcome.
Overall, Compartmentalisation 101 is an admirable attempt to unite some big themes around some central focal points. The play would benefit from deeper characterisation and a more dynamic script that more fully explores its key themes, but delivers an hour-and-a-half of theatre which brings to light some important themes.
Compartmentalisation 101 ran at Bedlam Theatre on 12-13 February 2020.
Featured image credit: Leo O’Mahony