Dear reader, I feel it’s important you know I’m a literature student, so I can analyse things till the cows come home. Sometimes I’ll do it without meaning to… but this one? This one lost me.
Unfamiliar is the abstract telling of Victor Esses and Yorgos Petrou’s journey to becoming a family. It’s a love story first and foremost. It’s heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure, and it’s important. They ask what it means to be a family, a queer family specifically, in intimate detail, and open the door for understanding if you’ve never had to deal with internalised homophobia or a medical system that doesn’t believe you can be a family at all. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a reaching out, a hand to hold, for those who have. It’s the writing more than anything else that creates a piece that feels this significant. I would happily buy a manuscript so I could go over, and probably analyse, the beautiful, eloquent monologues that lay this story bare.
The show being streamed live from the couple’s home made everything seem more intimate; voyeuristic, even. Almost like something I shouldn’t have been watching. This only added to the feeling of importance that the story was being told. They did incredibly well in adapting the piece for the screen, unlike many shows I’ve watched online. There were four cameras in different parts of the house, and as the pair moved between each, the dynamic shifted from the vulnerability of isolation to the sanctuary of togetherness. You could see the intricacies of domestic life and love play out in real time, which probably wouldn’t play to the same effect in a neutral theatre space.
Having said that, a neutral theatre space would’ve hugely benefitted the movement sequences. And it was the movement sequences that lost me. As I hinted at, I’m a sucker for abstract, stylistic, (pretentious depending on who you ask), art. I love reading into it and annoying everyone around me with my ground-breaking theories on what that specific hand movement symbolises. However, I really didn’t get the physicality in Unfamiliar. I didn’t understand why they were rolling around; I didn’t understand why they were stacking plums; and I didn’t understand why they would decide to distract from such profound writing. Maybe I’m simply not a very good student, and, as with any self-expression, it’s subjective and personal, but this time it just didn’t translate. I would have perhaps given myself over to it more in a black-box, studio theatre, with some bold lighting choices. My safe space when it comes to expressionist theatre.
Who am I to critique the way two people decide to express their love though? There is a very specific tone that flows through the whole piece. This is a tone of voice, of atmosphere, and of style, that Esses and Pertrou have chosen to tell their incredible story, and whether you find it off-putting or inspirational, it’s a story worth hearing. It was ultimately a privilege being let into Victor and Yorgos life, and I wish them all the happiness in the world as they take their next step towards having a baby, this coming December.
Review by Anna Smith
Price of Ticket: £8