Review: #Haters by Odd Eyes Theatre

Haters#Haters is the first professional play by Odd Eyes Theatre, written and directed by Artistic Director, Emilia Teglia, and takes at its subject the real-life incident in 2014 in which a young Hackney man was stabbed and staggered into a local bar, covered in blood. The bar owner called emergency services, saw to the victim’s needs and, afterwards, in an effort to lighten the tone, tweeted about the incident with the hashtag #Welcome to Hackney. The backlash on twitter was immense.

The story deals with the all-too-familiar gentrification of London boroughs, and the tension between long-term residents and the new breed of upwardly-mobile housebuyers and the majority of the play takes us twice though an imaginary meeting between victim and hipster through to the stabbing, in which each character in turn punctuates the action by sharing his backstory and inner thoughts with the audience.

The characters are engaging and writer Emilia Teglia refuses to stereotype either. We learn, as the stories unfold, that the victim, Tyrese, wants to get on in life, despite being relegated to the ‘affordable housing’ side of the new development his family has been moved into; the hipster bar-owner is in heavy debt to a loan shark, and everything rests on the night going well. Underpinning the story of the two men is a chorus of women, representing social media and commenting on the action with ‘likes’, LOLs, opinions and event reminders, all set to music, which brought another dimension to the play.

The dialogue is fast-paced and rhythmic and shifts styles throughout, from rap battle to opera, prose conversation to verse-like soliloquies but, somehow, this works. The pace and style of the piece also changes constantly, giving the production light and shade and sweeping the audience along with it. And although the subject matter is dark, the play is also very funny. The star is undoubtedly Josh Okusanya as Tyrese, whose comic timing, sense of rhythm, multitude of voices and physical characterisations and sheer dexterity with the tongue-twisting nature of some of the dialogue is hugely impressive. Greg Snowden as the hipster is delightfully awkward, both physically and emotionally, and Barbara Diana, Lola May and Jennie Jacobs gel seamlessly as the social media chorus.

This was a piece that is still in development and it would be very interesting to see how or if it changes, were the two stories to be interspersed, rather than happening one after the other. The set was impressive in its representation of a lift, complete with moving lights to indicate the direction of travel, but the constructing and deconstructing of it, several times during the action, drew focus from the main story and I wished it had been left in place throughout. The rest of the set was a little bare, although the rostra that doubled as drums and double bass gave it an added dimension.

I also felt that, although the publicity led us to believe that this was a play about social media, in fact the main body of the play, quite rightly, dealt with the relationship between two men from opposite sides of the divide, The thoughtless tweet and ensuing chaos was barely represented, featuring only briefly at the end of the story and not drawing any conclusions.

Notwithstanding, for a first professional production, this was a triumph and both Emilia Teglia and Odd Eyes Theatre bear watching closely in the future. I’m very much looking forward to their next production!

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