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IN THE WAY OUT, a young woman — the Outsider — takes refuge in the seemingly empty Battersea Arts Centre at night and meets a mysterious guide who offers them an alternative way out.
Omid Djalili is the guide through the enchantment of the arts centre as he leads the silent Outsider (Blaithin Mac Gabhann), whose sombre garb and expression suggests the need for enlightenment or, at least, invigoration.
Djalili, dressed in an impressario’s red hat and coat, walks her through the labyrinth of the art centre’s rooms and corridors, past peeling walls and bared pipes, its romantic glory a reminder of the fire that devastated the building just five years ago.
Like the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, he reveals performance vignettes in various spaces in the building. It’s all done in one single take, which adds to the magic, and the feeling that we too are being taken on this journey of surprises.
Cabaret, dance, song, poetry and acrobatics — including a stunning hula-hoop dance — are strung together in different spaces in an immersive entertainment. There’s some nice art on the floor too, a winding yellow road made of flowers.
Much of Djalili’s oxymoronic and elliptical language irritates and I’d have liked him to break more into some of his outstanding comedy, which he does at times by adopting a different voice register — funny in itself.
“I look in the mirror and see a wizened, short, fat kebab-shop owner’s son but inside me there’s a thin, high-cheekboned, flamboyant luvvie,” he tells us. A brilliant comedian trying to get out, more like.
The performances seem to be “happened upon,” as if they're running on a loop rather than cued up.
Thus Le Gateau Chocolate — a Weimar Republic type character with overlong Mandarin nails and flamboyant drag — sings alone in huge room and then Sanah Ahsan delivers a feisty performance poem Come As You Are, a declaration of self-acceptance, which the Outsider pays particular attention to.
“It’s not the destination but the journey that counts,” says Djalili, rescuing it from cliche by adding: “unless you’re Neil Armstrong.”
Suri Krishnamma’s production is beautifully done and she and her co-writers Djalili and Nicholas Mark Harding have produced an intriguing wonderland.
Although it wasn’t obvious when and how the internal changes were happening in the Outsider, she found The Way Out and sloped off happily enough into the night and Lavender Hill.
On BBC iPlayer until November 9. Jan Woolf’s weekly lockdown diary Distant Socialising has concluded and she has returned to reviewing for the Morning Star.
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