Jasmine Lee-Jones is impressive. At twenty-two years old, curious is her second mainstage production – the first being the now infamous seven methods of killing kylie jenner, which exploded onto the Royal Court’s stage in 2019 and again in 2021, so hungry was the theatre industry for a second helping. This time around Lee-Jones stars, playing a version of herself – Jaz – in a one-woman wonder that interrogates the complex experience of being a Black performer, as well as a young queer woman trying to find her way.
First, we see Jaz at drama school. Lee-Jones is an easy, natural performer with impeccable comedic timing, and she effortlessly strikes up a friendly rapport with the audience. We’re quickly pulled into her world, feeling her restrained fury at being cast as Servant Number Two in restoration dramas, or in the next breath being told that she isn’t acting Black enough. It’s this experience that triggers a fixation on the idea of a long-forgotten 18th century predecessor, Celia Edlyne – an escaped female slave who became an actor, eventually stepping into the role of Othello. Jaz’s journey to uncover the truth about Celia expands the play’s scope across centuries, and introduces questions surrounding the erasure of Black creatives throughout history. This nod to history is supported by design from Camilla Clarke and Rosie Elnile, which is punctuated by a luxurious canopied four-poster bed, and flowing curtains framing the space.
Similar to seven methods, the language of curious flits between flowing, poetic lyricism and joyful irreverence (Jaz’s frequent use of the word ‘fuck’ is infallibly satisfying each time). The introduction of external characters provides texture to the world of the play, although some, such as the enigmatic man who works at the Black Cultural Archives, need a little fleshing out. The tension-fraught friendship with the extravagant and selfish Mon, though, is touching and helps to paint a vibrant picture of London. When Mon drags Jaz south of the river – all the way to Croydon, no less – a knowing laugh ripples across the audience.
Lee-Jones is a wonderfully ambitious playwright who doesn’t shy away from tackling a range of big topics, but at times I was looking for a touch more focus from the text; a honing-in. It’s clear that curious is at least semi-autobiographical, and it feels very much that we are being confided in and sharing in something deeply personal. Saying that, the confessional and conversational tone sometimes comes at the expense of theatricality. Anna Himali-Howard’s production lends Lee-Jones’s talent deserved space, however I did yearn for a pick-up in pace. The piece weighs in at ninety-five minutes – fairly lengthy, as solo shows go – but despite this the closing sections feel cramped, with loose ends rushed to be tied. I was left suspecting that curious could have made its points with more impact, in less time. As my theatre companion succinctly put it – ‘perhaps it needed to go through the strainer a couple more times’.
Undoubtedly though, Jasmine Lee-Jones is an excellent storyteller, on both page and stage. The closing words are powerful, addressing an all-consuming fear of one’s story being whitewashed out of history – ‘will my words shatter into ash? I don’t want to die with my song stuck in my throat’. Something tells me, though, that Lee-Jones has many more stories still to be told.
curious is on at Soho Theatre till 16th October. More info here.