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Alba at Oval House

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
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'Albino' - what does it mean to you?

Alba puts this question to you in a one act play which is based on the life of the performer, Jo Bannon, who is an albino. Ironically, the piece starts off devoid of colour. No light, total darkness and the Coventry Mass playing. It builds to a crescendo as it reveals a veiled figure, spectral in white conducting gestures reminiscent of a Catholic priest. This eerie apparition establishes the themes of the play being otherness, social attitudes to albinos, identity and the relationship between the transcendent and the mundane.

Mundane activities take on almost ritualistic qualities bordering on ceremony as she irons a sheet on a trestle table. With a white cloth ironed and placed upon it, it becomes an altar. Even making a sandwich becomes Eucharist as she breaks bread, as if to show society's attitudes to difference breaking her limb from limb. The bread is her body as well as christ's. She uses this juxtaposition of the mundane and transcendent to create a multi layered ocean of meaning, which forces us to question notions of identity, as well as our attitudes to her as an albino.

The attitudes toward albinos are shown in one recorded interview which told the story of how a kid ran away from her in terror on seeing Bannon in her pushchair. These recordings are used to show how society is prejudiced against her, as an albino, but also her other worldly appearance suggests an angel. Being that this play tells the story of John Paul II's vist to Britain, Bannon's otherworldly appearance, suggests a purity that transcends sinful humanity. You can even say it suggests an angel. Even washing her hair is a purification ritual that takes on spiritual significance when you realise that it suggests baptism, but Bannon's albinism suggests an inherent purity of an angel. In Christian theology, white suggests purity and holiness, while black has connotations of evil. "Alba" is Latin for white, which is where the word "albino " comes from.

Even I was transfixed on the mundane enacted as if they were sacred rituals, but this production transcended genre and time. The only thing that disappointed me was that it was too short, clocking in at forty minutes long. Even I was wanting more, for the simple reason that I'll never look at making a sandwich in the same way again.
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Why? You're never going to look at making a sandwich in the same way again!
Where: Oval House Theatre
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