Lynn Nottage's play Fabulation charms in a satirical look at a New Yorker business woman's fall from privilege
“It’s got a lovely view of the next building. I counted the number of bricks . . . 6473.”
American playwright Lynn Nottage’s most recent play Fabulation or the Re-education of Undine comes to London’s Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. It is a charming comedy which takes a satirical look at a New York business woman’s fall from an affluent and privileged life style to one where she is forced to re-examine her materialistic values.
Played very tongue in cheek, Fabulation reminded me of those magazine photo cartoons which tell romantic tales with photographic stills and large bubbles of amazement, astonishment and dismay. Playing non stop for one hour fifty minutes, as Undine, Jenny Jules puts in a magnificent, marathon performance full of exaggerated wit and high drama. Fabulation is pastiche but just below the surface laughter are some very serious points about family and values, ambition and scruples.
The British audience, unlike that in New York, greatly enjoyed the intercession of the Yoruba priest Babalawo (Lucian Msamati), obviously something that Londoners can relate to and find very humorous. I really liked the scenes set in the Drug Users Anonymous support group where Undine’s protests that she is not and never has been an addict are met with gasps of sanctimonious horror for the extent of her denial. The ex-addicts have just been applauding their individual anniversaries of “being clean”. Undine is however telling the truth. She has been placed on one year’s group drug counselling after taking pity on her wheel chair bound grandmother and trying to secure a crack cocaine deal for the old lady who has covered her crack habit injections by pretending to be diabetic.
I don’t think that Lynn Nottage expects us to believe all of the ways in which a successful business woman supposedly lost all financial control to Hervé (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), the smooth operator with a great line in tango based seduction. Or the dreadful series of coincidences and catastrophes that contribute to Undine’s descent economically and socially. But Undine does become a more attractive person. She starts the play as an unreasonable boss and ends it pregnant and almost fulfilled. But the story is apocryphal and satirical, a cautionary tale not to let success make you get decency out of perspective.
Indhu Rubasingham directs at a fair pace. Robert Jones’ elegant set is light and bright and his costumes are fun. Fabulation is a very entertaining evening, made special by the hard working and talented cast who take on several roles each. It seems as if the cast is much bigger as their roles are differentiated by clever costume and wig changes. It is of course Jenny Jules’ evening as Undine, formerly Sharona. Her high profile, magnetic energy does not pale for a moment. This play is a super climax to the Tricycle’s African-American season.
Fabulation,or The Re-Education of Undine
Written by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham
Director: Indhu Rubasingham
Designer: Robert Jones
Lighting Designer: Jon Driscoll
Sound Designer: Colin Pink
Composer: Paul Englishby
Running Time: One hour 50 minutes without an interval
Closed at the Tricycle on 18th March 2006
269 Kilburn High Road
London NW6 7JR
Current Website: Kiln Theatre
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Tricycle
on 20th February 2006