Brutally Powerful Play Forces Us To Confront A Fearful Reality

Lela & Co, Royal Court Theatre ★★★★☆

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 23 months ago
Brutally Powerful Play Forces Us To Confront A Fearful Reality Lela & Co, Royal Court Theatre 4

Playwright Cordelia Lyn’s Royal Court debut Lela & Co is not easy to watch. Half of the performance happens in total darkness. It tells the increasingly disturbing story of a girl from an ordinary family who is forced into a life of prostitution in a devastating conflict. This brutally powerful play directed by Jude Christian presents the reality of life for a displaced victim of war with gut-wrenching frankness.

We join Lela (Katie West) in her mind; a surreal world of neon lights, leather furniture, plush red curtains and black and white floor. Lela is dressed in a tutu and speaks in a thick Yorkshire accent. At first her monologue is like a modern day Little Women, telling stories about her two sisters and their childhood games.

We are never told where Lela is from or what war she is involved in. She is a universal character whose tragedy has occurred innumerable times. West sensitively presents us with an innocent child who is chewed up by a cruel world and spat back out resilient but irrevocably damaged.

As Lela’s story darkens so does her mind, her world contracting to the space just in front of her. It goes from a bright playful place filled with colourful clothes and candy floss to total darkness when the husband she is forced into marrying becomes abusive and eventually forces her to have sex with countless men for money. The male figures are all represented by a sinister figure played by David Mumeni. Together the duo deftly create an unbearable tension between abuser and victim as Lela’s life unravels.

The play unceremoniously rips us away from the comfort of the theatrical setting, attacks our senses by plunging us into near total darkness interspersed with the deafening sound of bombs and Lela’s screaming. This hugely effective choice tips us over from uncomfortable into scared, experiencing a tiny taste of the horror she describes.

We exit in stunned silence. Lela & Co is a play which forces us to confront a fearful reality, considering a terrifying individual story which is also a recurrent fact of war wherever it is found.

Lela & Co is on at the Royal Court Theatre until 3 October. Tickets £20. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 11 September 2015