Reviews London TheatreOWE & Fringe Published 6 September 2016

Review: Counting Stars at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

Theatre Royal Stratford East ⋄ 26th August - 17th September 2016

A stubborn glimmer: Gillian Greer reviews Atiha Sen Gupta’s play set in a Woolwich nightclub.

Gillian Greer
Counting Stars at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo: Scott Rylander.

Counting Stars at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo: Scott Rylander.

Sophie and Abiodun’s story isn’t one that’s often told. Toilet attendants in a grimy nightclub in Woolwich, they may find themselves in the gutter, but both are heavily invested in the stars. For Sophie, positive to a fault who refers to the drunken revellers in her bathroom as ‘clients’ and moulds herself as their own personal assistant while waving their money away, the stars come in the form of horoscopes she reads daily, gleaning the possibility of a more hopeful future from their vague prophetic wisdom. For Abiodun with his wasted Physics degree, the knowledge that he is the stuff of stars is the one thing that gets him through the beer and vomit-soaked nights of disrespect and degradation.

It’s in these stars that this unlikely couple find a kind of beauty, and so too does playwright Atiha Sen Gupta that’s sweetly realised in this production. It’s an authentic and necessary tale, one that gives a voice to that most unlikely storyteller: the nightclub bathroom attendant often treated more like another cistern than a human being. Their relationship feels real to us, their struggles even more so, but as the night progresses and the miseries begin to pile up, the play can’t support the weight of all the issues the writer has heaped atop of this gentle love story. I’m sure that our playwrights will be snowed under with requests to ‘put a bit of Brexit’ in their plays over the upcoming months and years, but Counting Stars’ subtle portrayal of institutionalised discrimination is undermined in its rather preachy referendum-fuelled final act.

The production is refreshingly immersive. Audience members are shuffled towards a side entrance, stamped by brutish bouncers and plied with drink before they can take their seats. The garish lights and crude dance music is evocative, but some uncertain movement and a few wobbles with lines on press night shook what is clearly a well thought out production with slick, truthful intent. Staged in a venue in my own homestead of Zone 3, I was excited for what Counting Stars had to say about life in this city I have so recently learned to call home. With two earnest performances, a dynamic production and and an empathetic story, Counting Stars shines a light on the grottiest of places and finds the stubborn glimmer of stars.

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Gillian Greer is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Counting Stars at the Theatre Royal Stratford East Show Info


Directed by Pooja Ghai

Written by Atiha Sen Gupta

Cast includes Estelle Daniels, Lanre Malaolu

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