Assembly George Square Studios – Five
Aug 12, 14-19, 21-27 (12:00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Phoebe McIntosh’s ‘Dominoes’ is a difficult yet essential hour of theatre at the Fringe. Written and performed by Phoebe McIntosh, this one-woman play introduces us to young bride-to-be Layla as she navigates her way through the difficult world of self-identity, wedding jitters and family heritage. She and her fiancé Andy have the same surname – a funny coincidence, perhaps – but had never thought twice about it until a cataclysmic realisation turns their entire relationship on its head. Suddenly, tying the knot represents something far bigger and more complex than any conversation or ritual can undo and Layla is left questioning the fundamental parts of who she is.
Though a one-woman show, the lights go up and we meet Layla next to an almost ghostly wedding dress hanging on a coat hanger. Though the play does not attempt to achieve Miss Havisham levels of imagery, the message is clear – Dominoes is about the paralysing struggle that comes with the choices we must make and the consequences we have to experience as a result – much like the game dominoes. Layla is a bright, sparky and witty history teacher with one white parent and one black parent. This fact is important as Layla tells us about her struggle to navigate the balance between her radically different heritages – one Scottish, which allows her to pass as white in job interviews and Scottish conversation, and the other black, where she loves meeting with her granddad, drinking rum and hearing about her black family.
Though this is a serious play thought its examination of the effects of white privilege and racism that are still so prevalent, we are never lectured. Rather, director Stephen Wrentmore has us empathise with the excellently-written character of Layla by allowing us to hear her innermost thoughts – from raging about her best friend’s bespoke bridesmaid’s dress to laughing at her grandfather’s drinking, smoking and blunt humour. At times Wrentmore could have Layla’s character let down her nervous guard a little, as her constant-seeming anxiety can be somewhat distracting in the small, intimate space that we share with her. However, perhaps this is the point: Layla has so struggled navigating her identity for so long that this nervousness represents a small, stressful break in her normally cool and collected character.
McIntosh expertly navigates the set with ease, keeping us engaged and particularly conveying a sense of space and place. Technically the play is kept simple, with interludes of music and lighting state changes gently keeping everything trotting along nicely. The piece works very well in such a small space as McIntosh never has to raise her voice to be heard: so, in many ways, we wouldn’t want a grander spectacle or a larger space, as we need to see every line and tear in McIntosh’s face.
I must state that I am a white woman who has therefore never experienced racism. I will never be able to feel the weight of hundreds of years’ worth of oppression based upon the colour of my skin except from the other side – as one of the oppressors. However, to boil this play down to it being a narrative about black rights only would be to do it a disservice – it’s also richly funny, with McKinnon’s impressions of her grandfather and friend being particularly well-observed, and deeply relatable as a young woman. We watch Layla almost grieve as Andy, her person to ‘soften the sharp edges of life’ for her becomes misplaced because of circumstances beyond her control. We see her nervousness at appeasing and pleasing everyone around her in a way that only women are really taught to do. It’s not often that you leave a play feeling as if you’ve made a friend in the lead character, but Dominoes does just that, and it has a powerful message to boot: The world might not know your name, but what matters is that you do.