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Strip search at Edinburgh Fringe

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Peeling off the layers

TheSpace@ North bridge – Edinburgh – August 5-27th – 21:05 (0:50)

Tonight, as Squaddie (Damola Onadeko) removes layer after layer of clothing in an elaborate strip tease, he also begins to peel away the metaphorical layers of his young life.  This has been a life thick with pain, fear, drugs, war and, crucially, the confusion of his unrealised sexuality.

Peter Scott-Preisland  has certainly chosen a strong and dramatic premise for his work. And, while the piece has it’s awkward moments and never quite takes off, it is certainly worth seeing for the ideas it presents.  Still, the show fails, in several respects, to be as powerful and engaging as it could be.

Scenes of homo-erotic dancing under disco lighting to loud and, at times, suggestive pop music are intercut with monologues.  While there is no doubt that Damola Onadeko  can dance there is something entirely sexless about his performance.  Rather than a seductive male stripper, we get a performance that lacks the one thing Squaddie declares his sexual acumen and alpha homosexuality gives him—power.  Furthermore, while Onadeko has sublime moments—transforming instantly and with seeming ease from an eight-year old boy, desperate to win enough money on the fruit machines to buy his mother the perfume which he believes will make her love him again, to his abusive step father, to the mother herself and even the weedy Irish love of his life; Christian—he never quite settles on a convincing voice for Squaddie himself.  The result of this is a lack of contrast.  Despite John Brand’s stark contrasts of lighting the show falls flat.

In moments of Squaddie’s anger Damola Onadeko manages to transcend himself and channel the energy and accent of a deprived and messed up young man.  His descriptions of the retribution taken against all those who attempted or succeeded in hurting Christian—in the young offenders prison where the met and in the war, are well put across with a fierce righteousness that becomes the character.  However, Squaddie’s more narrative and less theatrical moments lose their poignancy because Damola fails to lose the voice and physicality of a very well brought up young man.  It is a shame, because it makes Strip Search often unconvincing.

But it is not just Damola Onadeko’s fault that the play never flies.  Sadly the writing and direction also lets it down in places.  While most of the script is well worded, with moments of very real bathos, the show flashes between its two worlds slightly too often, lending it a feeling of ‘going on too long.’  Squaddie describes a strip-tease as an act of prolonged sexual tension, or tantalisation at the start of the show.  One that is necessarily slow.  But Squaddie’s imminent nakedness eventually becomes a rather inconvenient ‘elephant in the room.’  He is not wearing enough layers at the start to make his routine so lengthy, and much of the early script could be toned and streamlined to ensure that Squaddie’s words remain as engaging as his rippling biceps should be.

This is a show that needs more work to make it spectacular.  Yet the potential is there.  If the script were as streamlined as Squaddie’s post prison, post war body and the acting a raw as the content demands, and if the choreography and it’s performance were more daring, this could be a very fine and provocative piece of drama indeed. As it stands it is merely intriguing.

Cast: Squaddie—Damola Onadeko

Company: Writer—Peter Scott-Presland, Producer—Peter Scott-Presland, Director—Peter Scott-Presland, Choreography—Randy Smartnick, Web and Publicity Designer—Keith Bursnall, Lighting Design—John Brand, Technical Operator – Peter Scott-Presland, Photographer—David Elms

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