Alex Darby’s new piece, Vagrant, tells the story of Lara, downtrodden ideologue and student who hates the pressures of her bourgeois existence: finals, finance and family – its overwhelming. Lara transfers (online) her money to Oxfam, and with resolute affectation joins the ranks of Oxford’s Homeless. Add a pinch of sex, a generous sprinkle of drugs and an hour and a half later she’s back at her dinner table quaffing elderflower.
The play intends to give voice to the marginalised, but this “marginalised voice” appears to be little more than a reflection of the moralist discourse of the good and great upon those poor and drug-addled Homeless. The play starts and ends with typically middle-class scenes. Lara sits with her pinched and yuppy sister. An iphone acts as a paperweight. In the intervening scenes Lara has been ‘damaged’, a state which renders her uninterested in finishing her degree and uninteresting in conversation; nevertheless we feel she’s learned something, but has she? Should she’ve endured her privilege with more grace? As a member of the middle-class, can I learn from her mistakes?
The play had moments of especial efficacy. The narrative was interspersed with interviews of the three Homeless characters; in each, the character’s voice was gradually replaced with a recording and through interpretive dance they re-enacted the history their voiceover was recounting. The physical dynamics were powerful and symbolic, the intelligent use of space added depth to the otherwise wooden, truncular dialogue. It was a shame to lose Zoe Bullock half way through, who sensitively navigated love, hate and emotional freedom. Eliza Easton had a tough task and fared fine. Barney Fishwick’s psychedelic jittering was apt in some moments, in others overdone. As Isabelle, Lara’s sister, Bridget Dru was rigid and inattentive to tone; as the neglectful mother she was compelling.
Darby’s earnest portrayal of his subject matter was brave, his slips into a more literary language were ineffective and mistaken. The creative physical dynamics and assured movements of the characters suggest that where the script lacked, Darby’s strong and imaginative directing was recompense.