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Lela and Co. review at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court – ‘fable-like account of abuses suffered by women in wartime’

Katie West and David Mumeni in Cordelia Lynn’s play Lela and Co. Katie West and David Mumeni in Cordelia Lynn’s play Lela and Co.

It happens all the time, all over the world, in places of warfare and turmoil: young women turned into objects, imprisoned, systematically abused, made meat. Cordelia Lynn’s play gives a voice to one of these women.

From a young age Katie West’s Lela is dehumanised, a thing to be bartered with, the subject of transaction, a collection of orifices.

Jude Christian’s production further explores the idea of visibility. In the beginning Lela sits on a swing-seat wearing a tutu and munching on candy-floss in the centre of Ana Inés Jabares Pita’s red velvet set. But as war breaks out in her unnamed homeland and the narrative lurches further and further into horror, Christian plunges the audience into darkness. We can no longer see Lela and the things she is put through, her repeated violations.

Lela’s monologue – for this is how the play labels it – is also repeatedly disrupted by David Mumeni, clad in game-show gold, who plays the various men in Lela’s life, her father, her husband, the foreign soldier – sent to keep the peace – who sympathises with her plight but takes advantage of her anyway.

Too often though it feels like there’s a disconnection between Lynn’s often raw and intermittently forceful play and Christian’s approach to it; while the scene between Lela and the soldier is genuinely upsetting, the fabling of Lela’s world, its lack of specificity, dilutes the play’s impact and while West is intense and compelling in the role there’s a lack of clarity to the production as a whole which further undermines its potential to wound.

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Fable-like, but oddly unmoving account of the abuses suffered by women in times of war