Drug-smuggling. Ibiza to Peru. One of the worst prisons in the world and two women trying their best to survive. Omnibus’
There’s latent skill in Mule aching to pop out, so it's irking to know Omnibus can do better.
Let no-one deny the inspiration is relevant: Michaella McCollum, on whom Lennon's character is based, was released from jail two days ago. What can be said is there’s a nice marriage of script and direction, primarily because the director and writer are the same talented person: Kat Woods. There’s a feeling to the play and that feeling comes across snappy, fickle and lairy — and those aren’t Rice Krispies characters. Lennon and Poor, the play’s only actors, do a virtuoso job of handling many characters with many (I counted 11) accents. The multiple roles are the best part of the piece, even if the minor characters feel stereotyped, like the Peruvian customs officer who keeps slipping into Spanish because he’s... Hispanic and can’t help it?
The messed-up timeline makes the lack of explained motivations even harder to decipher. The narrative accelerates through several months, then takes it back, then forward again. And the vigorous direction manages to justify this structure. As a side effect, however, the form confusingly posits the nasty journalist as the main thread holding the story together.
Still, that’s not the real issue. The great flaw of Mule is that for all the body-switching, coked-up madness there’s no discernible development in Lennon and Poor's duo. They appear to just go through the motions of their jail time with an air of light concern. There are little flecks of camaraderie in their cell, but when have we not seen this in a prison drama? The protagonists aren’t characterised; there’s nothing to set them apart. There’s an opportunity in the conflict of the Northern Irish one's Protestantism with her blithe illegality, but this isn’t well-formed. The Scottish one remains blunt and Scottish.
The story lacks focus, all the more glaringly in the light of the other top-notch elements at work. Lennon and Poor are wicked performers: the former playing innocence remarkably well, the latter showing a true breadth of expression. Behind the scenes, Woods has flair in getting her words onstage but the words themselves aren’t great. There’s latent skill in Mule aching to pop out, so it's irking to know Omnibus can do better.